Handling the Heat in Youth Sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 9/9/2020

Summer may be dwindling down, but in many places of the country, the heat is not.

I live in Florida and the heat is a real issue here for outdoor athletes. My husband is a football coach and is very conscious of the dangers of heat. He knows that playing in the heat means preparations in advance of the day that practice starts.

Athletes Should Start by Getting Acclimated in Advance. It’s important to take 2 weeks to gradually increase training in the heat to prepare for the first full practice or competition. Before that, athletes should work on cardiovascular fitness to prepare their bodies for working out in the heat.

 Athletes Should Pace Themselves. Every workout should start with a warmup that slowly increases intensity.

 Athletes Should Avoid or Cut Back on Working Out if They are Just Getting Over Being Sick. Some gastrointestinal illnesses can cause dehydration and adversely affect body temperature regulation.

Athletes Should Drink Water All the Time. Hydration must become a lifestyle. My husband stays hydrated all day every day, knowing that if he waits until he hits the football field in the heat of the afternoon, it too late for his body to catch up.

Athletes Should Add Electrolytes to Their Hydration if They Will Be in the Heat for Longer Periods of Time. If your child is training for over an hour or multiple times in a day, consider having them drink a sports drink with electrolytes, especially sodium, to properly rehydrate.

Athletes Should Stay Away from Caffeine and Alcohol. Steering clear of soda is wise for serious athletes. Although a soda every now and then isn't going to make or break your child’s athletic career, a soda habit pushes out healthy calories and offers no vitamins or minerals to bolster performance. Too much soda may also discourage your child from drinking water, which is really the best drink for exercise. Both sweetened and diet soda lacks electrolytes, minerals you need to replace after a hard workout. 

Athletes Should Take Frequent Breaks. Look for shade for a momentary relief from the hot sun and a water source that athletes can pour over themselves. My husband hooked up a 10-foot-long pic pipe with spouts, connected to the main water source. This allows players to drench themselves in water to cool their bodies down.

Coaches and Parents Must be Educated. Understanding heat illness and knowing how to prevent athletes from experiencing heat-related injuries is better than treating the injuries after they occur. It’s also important to have athletic trainers, paramedics, or other medical personnel who know about heat illnesses available for practices or competitions during extreme heat. The team should have a plan ready for contacting emergency services if an athlete succumbs to heat illness.

Being aware of these precautionary measures and preparing for the demands that heat can put on the body should be part of every outdoor athlete’s training.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.