Some youth football teams have already started practicing; others will start next week like us. The common denominator is that for most of us is, we will be practicing in the heat.
There are three major problems youth football players have in hot weather, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These problems are caused by heat and dehydration, but by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to prevent them.
Heat cramps are muscle contractions, usually in the calf or hamstring muscles. These contractions are spasm like and quite painful. The cause is heat and dehydration. Rest, massaging or stretching the muscle and water are all that can be done for this, they eventually pass.
Heat exhaustion is also a result of excessive heat and dehydration. The signs of heat exhaustion include paleness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and a moderately increased temperature (101-102 degrees F). Rest and water may help in mild heat exhaustion, and ice packs and a cool environment (with a fan blowing on the player) may also help. More severely exhausted players may need IV fluids and medical attention.
Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness. The player would have warm, flushed skin, and they often do not sweat. Players who have heat stroke after exercise in hot weather, though, may still be sweating considerably. A person with heat stroke usually has a very high temeperature (106 degrees F or higher), and may be delirious, unconscious, or having seizures. These players need to have their temperature reduced quickly, often with ice packs, they must be taken to the hospital as quickly as possible (EMS is appropriate here), and may have to stay in the hospital for observation since many different body organs can fail in heat stroke. If you see your player has these warning signs, get him in the shade immediately, poor cool water over him, get him hydrated and call EMS immediately as this is a life threatening situation.
You can prevent heat-related illnesses. The important thing is to stay well-hydrated, to make sure that your players can get rid of extra heat, and to be sensible about practicing in hot, humid weather.
Your sweat is your body’s main system for getting rid of extra heat. When you sweat, and the water evaporates from your skin, the heat that evaporates the sweat comes mainly from your skin. If you do not sweat enough, you cannot get rid of extra heat well, and you also can’t get rid of heat. Dehydration will make it harder for you to cool off in two ways: if you are dehydrated you won’t sweat as much. But, since you lose water when you sweat, you must make up that water to keep from becoming dehydrated.
If the air is humid, it’s harder for your sweat to evaporate, this means that your body cannot get rid of extra heat as well when it’s muggy as it can when it’s dry. If it is humid your youth football players are going to suffer.
The clothing your youth football players wear also makes a difference, too: the less clothing you have on, and the lighter that clothing is, the easier you can cool off.
Football players are prone to heat illness, since football uniforms cover nearly the whole body and the helmet traps in heat. Since high humidity reduces your body’s ability to get rid of excess heat by sweating, for a given air temperature, the higher the humidity, the higher the apparent temperature, or heat index. For example, if the air temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit (or 30 degrees Celsius), but the relative humidity is 50 percent, the apparent temperature will be about 88 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like a huge difference, but if the humidity is 90 percent, the heat index will be 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body will have to sweat as much to get rid of extra heat at 86 degrees Fahrenheit in 90 percent humidity as it would in a dry desert at 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best way to lessen the effects of excessive heat and humidity is to practice as much as you can in the shade. Even if the shaded area is quite small, do as much as you can in that space and even consider altering some of your drills to accommodate for a smaller space. We specifically look for shade when choosing a practice field. If it is very hot, consider practicing temporarily at another location that has shade. I won’t practice on a field that doesn’t have shade.
The second best way to lessen these effects is to practice without helmets on. I used to be one of those guys that felt that youth football players needed to have their helmets on all the time to “get used to them”. Well after 4 weeks of practice, even if the helmet is worn intermittently, the players are used to them. Since 2002, we have not worn helmets during: Cals, Warm Ups, Angle Form Tackling, Breaks and even many play reps, scheme implementations and fit and freeze reps. Our players are fresher, more alert and attentive than when I made them always have their helmets on. It is very difficult to teach anyone anything that is not alert.
Of course we have plenty of water breaks during our practices as well. Make sure to use these breaks as mini chalk talk sessions so as to not waste a minute of valuable practice time.
Altering your practice schedule to lessen the more difficult activities to cooler days may make sense. We have even cancelled practice when the temperature was 95 and the humidity was over 85%. We rescheduled that practice for an early Saturday morning to everyones relief.
Be careful with the heat when coaching youth football. There will always be more seasons, but your players have only one life.
For 150 free youth football practice tips: Football Practice [http://winningyouthfootball.com/author]
Copyright 2007 Cisar Management and http://winningyouthfootball.com republishing this article are parts of it without including this paragraph is copyright infringement.