It might sound crazy to be talking about heat exhaustion while most of the US is still blanketed under snow, but with the MLB’s Spring Training underway our minds are already turning towards the summer sports season. And with the summer comes heat! Think about the last time you went for a walk or a jog on a hot summer day. Chances are even in shorts and a tee-shirt you were pretty toasty by the end, right? Now think about the football players up at the local high school—some teams run two-a-day practices in the summer in full equipment. Let’s say that padding doesn’t breathe quite as well as cotton! Regardless of what sport your child plays or how much gear they have to wear in the summertime heat exhaustion is a serious concern and as parents and coaches we need to do everything we can to prevent heat exhaustion, as well as recognize the signs and learn how to treat heat exhaustion should one of our players get sick.
There are two types of heat exhaustion; water depletion and salt depletion. You lose both water and salt when you sweat (in an attempt to cool your core body temperature down) and both need to be replaced quickly or you may start to feel weak, nauseous, get a headache and muscle cramps, or possibly even faint.
The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to make sure your players stay hydrated. This means they have plenty of water to drink BEFORE practice or a game, as well as giving adequate water breaks during, and make sure they drink lots of fluids after. In the football classic “Remember the Titans” the coach remarks during an especially hot practice that “Water make your weak.” No matter how tough you want your players to be withholding water breaks is definitely not the way to go about things! As coaches our primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of our youth athletes and making sure they stay hydrated should be our number one priority. By the time an athlete feels thirsty they are already dehydrated. Sports parents should keep a few extra water bottles in the car just in case. They may be warm but at least they’re wet.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the heat index on the days you have practices and games scheduled. The hotter it is outside the harder our bodies have to work to keep us cool and the greater the risk for dehydration is. If at all possible, try to avoid scheduling practices and games for the middle of the day when it’s bound to be the hottest and have the strongest sun. Most baseball diamonds aren’t conveniently shaded! Aim for morning or evening practices instead.
If you suspect one of your athletes is suffering from heat exhaustion be sure to get them off the field and into a cool, shaded area. Take of any extra padding or gear so their sweat can evaporate more easily and help cool their core body temperature down. Be sure to give them lots and lots of water, and maybe a sports drink with electrolytes to help replace lost nutrients. You should start to see your athletes “perk up” within 15 minutes of getting them out of the heat. If they don’t seem like they are improving it might be a sign of heat stroke, which is a serious medical emergency and requires professional medical attention.