High Stakes Temperatures: There’s No Beating Heat-Related Illnesses this Season

High Stakes Temperatures

With spring sports seasons entering the final stretch and planning for summer preseasons underway, now is the perfect time to access the danger heat-related illnesses have on your student-athletes.

There are plenty of dangers that threaten student-athletes on a daily basis. When it comes to spring sports and summer pre-seasons, heat-related illness is a major threat. While often overlooked by players and coaches alike, heat-related illnesses are common and in some cases, even deadly. The symptoms of these high stakes temperatures vary. Less serious symptoms include muscle cramps and dehydration. However, severe symptoms of heat-related illnesses include confusion, disorientation, hyperventilation and even loss of consciousness.

The majority of EHS cases occur during initial summer workouts. This is the time when athletes are not prepared to cope with the environmental and physiological conditions. Athletes especially at risk for heat-related illnesses include individuals who are overweight, dehydrated, under-conditioned or very muscular. However, it’s important for coaches, trainers and administrators to understand that heat illness can affect even the most conditioned athletes.

In this post, we take a look at the scary reality of heat-related illnesses from the eyes of a coach and a player.

Coaches Vs. High Temperatures

While players battle heat-related illnesses on the fields, coaches take concern from the sidelines. In the small town of Butler, New Jersey, Coach Tyler Marion has been coaching at the high school level for over seven years. As a graduate of Butler High School and a current teacher, Mr. Marion has served as both the JV Baseball Team coach and the Boys’ Varsity Soccer Head Coach. While Mr. Marion has to worry about the competition on the field, he always keeps an eye on the temperature after a scary encounter last year.

Soccer, like other sports that train during the summer, is a sport that has high demands when it comes to player conditioning. Not only because of the running and conditing that is necessary for a soccer game, but because of the warm temperatures as well. In order to combat the elements, Coach Marion tries to hold the most physical practices during the early morning temperatures, when temperatures seem the lowest and the sun is still low in the sky. However, sometimes temperatures are still too high. The beginning of the season is also a critical time for players who aren’t acclimated to the activity.

A Scary Encounter

During the summer workouts of 2016, Coach Marion had a scary encounter with heat-related illness. It was a warm, mid-August morning. The temperature was around 82 degrees and it was sunny, with minimal cloud coverage. During this practice, a 16-year-old player showed “considerable signs of fatigue.” The player continued to push himself until he could no longer continue. Then, the player removed himself from the drill to get a drink of water and reported feeling nauseous. Coach Marion and his assistants were worried about the player but the school athletic trainer was on the sidelines taking care of the student. The student-athlete sat out the remainder of the session and slowly returned to play the following day.

For coaches like Coach Marion, this situation is all too common. While the temperature was only 82 degrees that day, that’s not how it really felt. The sun, lack of cloud coverage, humidity and a plethora of all factors all affected the “real feel,” temperature. Not to mention, this student-athlete had missed some early practices in which the rest of the team began acclimating themselves to the physical demands of the season.

Players Vs. High Temperatures

While players train to battle opposing teams they can sometimes push themselves too hard. In fact, even the most seasoned athletes can find themselves in a scary situation when dangerous weather conditions and physical activity combine. Unfortunately, this is a common situation.

One of our own Earth Networks employees had two scary encounters with heat-related illnesses during her high school career, both indoors and outside. Chelsey was a 3-sport athlete during her high school career. She played soccer, basketball and softball throughout the year on multiple teams. Even though she was well acclimated to physical activity throughout the entire year, Chelsey, unfortunately, suffered from both heat stroke and exhaustion.

The first time Chelsey had a problem was when she was 17-years-old. She was playing the first game of a doubleheader at an indoor basketball tournament during the middle of the summer. The weather that day was hot and humid. Unfortunately, the gym hosting the games had no windows or air conditioning. The players played in a muggy, humid gym that Chelsey describes had “no breeze or fresh air actually coming in.”

Heat Stroke and Heat Exertion

This was the day that Chelsey experienced heat stroke. At first, she felt dizzy, light headed and confused. These are all common signs of exertional heat stroke. Slowly, Chelsey recalls having trouble understanding what was going on as her coach cheered her on from the sidelines. It was the second quarter of the game, and Chelsey remembers telling herself “I just need to make it to half-time and I’ll be OK.” This is oftentimes a common thought in dedicated student-athletes.

When the buzzer went off at half time, Chelsey’s team met at the bench without her. She stood, confused, in the middle of the court as her eyes became foggy. Then, the color drained from her face and she turned white. Luckily, Chelsey’s mom is a nurse and caught her daughter before she hit the ground as she fainted on the court. Her mother took her outside where a fan and ice bags were placed on Chelsey. Someone started running a cold hose over her. It took nearly 15 minutes for Chelsey to come to.

The second time Chelsey had a problem with a heat-related illness was later that year during the soccer preseason. This time, she was prepared to protect herself from heat-related illness. She warned her coaches of her recent basketball experience and was ready to sit out and take extra breaks. On day two, the coaches kept an extra cooler of just ice in case anything happened.

At soccer camp, Chelsey had her goalie gear on, which consisted of her undershirt, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, padded shorts, extra shorts plus shin guards and long soccer socks. The goalies were performing fast-paced diving drills on a hot, dry day. It was the third day of camp at about 2:00 pm, which is one of the worst times for sun exposure. When dizziness, grogginess and weakness set in, Chelsey recognized what was happening and informed her coaches. She was suffering from heat exhaustion. She sat underneath the shade of a tree with ice until she cooled down. Then slowly, hopped back into the drills.

What Players Want Coaches to Know

After Chelsey’s first incident with heat-related illness, she was upset that neither she nor her coach recognized the signs of exertional heat stroke. It’s important that both coaches and players understand the symptoms of heat stroke and how quickly it can happen (2-5 minutes). Reacting quickly is also key to keep heat stroke from being deadly. Chelsey worries that if her mother wasn’t there, no one else in the building would have known what to do with her, which could have resulted in organ failure. After that incident, Chelsey’s coach got first aid training to prepare himself for any future situations. Unfortunately, coaches often wait until a situation happens to them to take it seriously.

Coaches, trainers and even players must know the symptoms and treatment for heat-related illnesses. To catch these problems as early as possible, coaches should always approach abnormal behavior with concern. It’s also important to keep players cool if something happens. Ice, cooling towels and shade are three great ways coaches can help players cool down. Ideally, prevention is the best defense.

Wet Bulb Globe Temperature: Your Best Defense

Heat-related illnesses with this series, 3-0. So how do you prevent these illnesses? Paying attention to Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is the best way to understand what it really feels like. Like Heat Index, WBGT takes more conditions into account besides just the temperatures. However, WBGT is more accurate than Heat Index because it considers temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover.

Get your strategy together for the 2017 summer preseason with our free webinar. Join us for “Heat Stress Prevention: Understanding Wet Bulb Global Temperature,” on Thursday, June 1st at 3:30 pm EST. Together with Campus Safety Magazine, our experts will discuss exertional heat illness (EHI) and its more severe form, exertional heat stroke (EHS). As temperatures begin to soar, keep the care and safety of your students and staff top of mind with this informational, live webinar. Together, we’ll explore more about WBGT and how you can incorporate it into your prevention plans.