This summer has seen a surge in global temperatures, with Earth's global average surface temperature in 2020 statistically tying with 2016 as the hottest year on record.
This trend, driven by human activities, continues to raise concerns about the effects of extreme heat on individuals, especially athletes engaging in sports during the summertime, including nighttime practices and games.
With the rising temperatures, heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke have become significant risks for athletes, particularly young athletes entering high school and participating in intense tryouts and practices.
The risk of developing a heat-related illness is 11.4 times higher in football than all other sports combined.
As the summer heat intensifies, everyone involved in sports, including parents and coaches, should be equipped with essential information to recognize and prevent heat-related illnesses.
Tragedies like the deaths of Korey Stringer, a Minnesota Vikings player, and Jordan McNair from the University of Maryland, serve as stark reminders of the severe risks associated with heatstroke in football. Both athletes succumbed to heat-related illnesses, shedding light on the potential dangers of engaging in physically demanding activities in hot and humid conditions, especially while carrying heavy equipment and under the pressure of coaches pushing athletes beyond their limits.
Football, being a sport with rigorous physical demands and a high-intensity nature, requires players to wear bulky protective gear that can impede heat dissipation, making them susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
These heartbreaking incidents underscore the urgent need for comprehensive heat safety protocols and heightened awareness among athletes, coaches, and sports organizations to prevent such tragedies in the future.
The following tips from Johns Hopkins can help safeguard young athletes from heatstroke, heat exhaustion, or cramps:
1. Heat Acclimatization:
Gradually acclimatizing to the heat is crucial. During the first 10 to 14 days of heat exposure, athletes should gradually increase the duration and intensity of their exercise or activity. This is especially important for children and teens who may be out of shape or considered overweight. The National Athletic Trainers' Association recommends a 14-day period for preseason heat acclimatization in its high school-specific guidelines.
2. Stay Hydrated:
Staying well-hydrated is one of the simplest ways to prevent heat-related illnesses. Coaches and parents must ensure that athletes have access to unlimited water during practices and games. It's equally important for athletes to drink water before and after physical activity. Failure to do so can lead to severe consequences, and dehydration can become life-threatening in certain conditions.
3. Early Recognition and Cooling:
Quick recognition of heat-related illness is critical for survival, as the signs and symptoms can be nonspecific and escalate rapidly. Look out for disorientation, dizziness, weakness, unusual behavior, headache, vomiting, and other abnormal signs. If you observe an athlete struggling, immediately remove them from the game or practice, offer water, and provide cooling through cold compresses or ice.
As global temperatures soar and heat-related risks increase, athletes, parents, and coaches must prioritize heat safety and prevention strategies. Heat acclimatization, hydration, and early recognition of symptoms are vital for ensuring athletes' well-being during the hottest months.
By understanding the risks and implementing proper precautions, we can safeguard our athletes and continue to enjoy sports without compromising their health.
Allow this article to serve as your reminder coaches, teams, and athletes to be on the lookout for the signs, to hydrate, and to understand that heat kills.