As the weather begins to turn warm and people start to crawl out of their winter slumbers, inevitably we will begin to hear sad and unfortunate stories of athletes collapsing, some even perishing, on sweltering practice fields across the country. The accounts, far too many for anyone’s liking, have peppered the headlines each year, with athletes in youth leagues all the way up through the professional ranks falling victim to the heat.
I know that when I started coaching years ago, the approach was simple and old school: get them some water and get moving. Toughen up. Move along, as athletes need to handle extremes, they need to be able to push themselves to previously unrecognized limits and to do so with unflinching courage.
Dangerous set of philosophies.
Like everything in life, times change and we learn. We take what works from our past, and we revise our mistakes so as not to repeat them. It is in this idea that now, as we head out onto the fields as coaches and players, we need to understand that athletes are not pure machines, and that the sun’s rays and their accompanying extreme temperatures can turn a great practice into a unimaginable tragedy.
The good news is that, with awareness and diligence, we can avoid almost every senseless scenario.
To start, we need to recognize the beginning signs of heat exhaustion, which if left unchecked can soon turn into heat stroke, and we need to educate our players to see it within themselves and on others. Coaches do all they can to protect their players, but, like any coach who has been around will tell you, it is impossible, despite one’s best efforts, to see everything. If everyone on the team and staff understands the warning signs, then heading off a potential situation becomes easier.
So, here are the initial symptoms of heat exhaustion.
*Weakness or fatigue
*Quick, shallow breathing
*Muscle weakness or cramps
If your players exhibit any of these, get them out of the heat immediately. Rest them in a cool place with lots of shade, and allow them to hydrate with water. Don’t let them chug it down; instead, even sips in a calm manner. Drinks with sugar and salt in them work well also. You may also want to make a phone call to the parent to inform him/her of the situation.
In the event the athlete doesn’t respond, or has the following advanced symptoms, get medical assistance at once. Do not delay. Have your assistants handle the team, and you stay with the player.
*No sweating, and skin is hot and dry
*Loss of consciousness
To help avoid any of this, prevention is critical. Get your players drinking at least a quart of fluid an hour–no caffeine though, as it enhances dehydration, and plan your practices accordingly. If you see it as a highly strenuous workout, have it early in the morning before the sun gets high and temperatures rise. Structure adequate breaks within your practices to afford the players chances to rehydrate and get out of the sun.
In the end, being keenly aware of your players’ conditions on a hot day is critical. The horrible news stories we see about athletes dying on the field could happen to anyone of us, so there is no true excuse for not setting up an environment that can manage the heat properly.
So many parts of coaching involve second chances, but not this. None of us can afford to be wrong here.