Avoid dehydration in your athletic children this summer. Practices are starting up soon for both soccer and football just as the temperatures hit their highest. Heat-induced illness is dangerous but preventable. Parents and coaches need to be aware of the potential hazards involved in high-intensity exercise in hot climates.
Higher risk factor. Due to physiological reasons, children do not adapt as effectively as adults, putting them at risk for dehydration and illness. Reasons for this include the fact that children produce more metabolic heat and children also have less capacity for sweating which is designed to help cool the body. Four to seven year olds are at a dangerously high risk since their bodies take more time to acclimate to humidity which is more of a factor than high temperatures. Other children at high risk include those who are overweight, inactive or are taking cold medication or are fighting allergy symptoms.
Preventative action starts at home. Keep your child well-hydrated throughout the days leading up to practice. High-water content foods should be emphasized along with fluids. Teach your child the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Give them permission to speak up if they sense a problem. Some children need to be told it is okay to ask for a break, others abuse this, but either way they should know how to protect themselves.
Clothing matters. Dress your young athlete in loose, light-colored clothing. Kids who are required to wear additional pads or protective gear should be especially wary of tight clothing. Have a change of clothing available so they can change out of sweat soaked outfits. If knee socks are required, look for the lightest weight fabric possible.
Give time to acclimate to the heat. The first few days of practice is when most heat related issues occur. It takes time to build up a tolerance for the humidity. In general three to four practices are needed to gradually work up to full participation. If you have any concern about the coaches not abiding by this general rule, be prepared to hang on the sidelines to keep an eye out for your child. Young athletes with protective gear may need two weeks of practice before their body is able to handle the heat properly.
During practice. In hot and humid conditions, coaches should be requiring fluid breaks before, during and after practice regardless of thirst. They should also be keeping an eye on the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) this is the standard index of humidity and temperature combined. Limiting outdoor activity when this marker is too high is a wise move. Intense activity can be reduced by alternating players frequently, stopping practice early or cancelling it altogether.
Spot heat-related problems. Dehydration is a serious issue causing excessive increase in core body temperature. Keeping sports drinks on hand throughout practices is a good idea. While water is ideal, flavored beverages are often more attractive to kids, helping them drink more. Sports drinks have additional benefits when children are sweating profusely, such as replacing electrolytes. At any rate, regular drinking should be enforced. At a minimum, 5 ounces of fluid should be consumed every 20 minutes for children under 88 pounds. Have a full bottle of water, or sports drink on hand for after practice to help in re-hydrating.
Soccer America- Fueling the young athlete
Mayo Clinic- Dehydration and youth sports
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