Coaches prevent heat injury

By Amanda Lowrance

Coaches prevent heat injury

A Selmer Middle School football player attempts to beat the heat at a recent practice. Staff photo by Amanda Lowrance

Athletes sweat in order to cool the body in hot environmental conditions. However, if the humidity is high, it increases moisture, which causes the body to not sweat as much. Therefore, exercise and training in hot and humid conditions should be avoided.

How do the football teams work around these conditions and with the rules of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association?

 “Last year we ran in the halls when it was too hot to practice outside,” said Adamsville head coach Brandon Gray. “We do ice towels, fans, and even have water stations on the field.”

“There are modified practices that you have to have when the heat index reaches 100,” said McNairy Central head coach Jim Glover. “You have to modify the clothes that the players wear and give them more frequent water breaks; like every ten minutes, give them a water break.” 

During our practice we always have water available for the players at any time they want it. They don’t ever have to ask. It’s always there.”

 We have fans and towels on the sideline. We have a tent at practice where they can get out of the sun.”

Dehydration, the lack of water, is the main cause of heat injuries. It is important to replace the sweat lost with oral fluid before, during, and after exercise.

“It’s vastly different from when I played and older generations played,” said Glover. “When the coaches wouldn’t give you water, they assumed water would make you weak. The thing that we have learned through science is that kids get water any time they want.”

 “Back when I was playing,” said Gray, “if you got a water break you didn’t want it. I have been where they are and walked in their shoes. We try to take care of them.”

Hypernatremia, consumption of too much fluid, is also a cause of heat injury. This occurs with a large dose of plain water during a high endurance workout.

The three main types of heat injury are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are strong muscle contraction usually occurring in the calf and hamstrings. Pain is relieved by slow, gentle stretching of the cramping muscle.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion usually occurs after the activity because of pooling of blood in the limbs from low blood pressure. During the exercise the muscles send the blood back to the heart, but when the exercise comes to a halt, the heart cannot receive enough blood causing the body to collapse.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headache, fainting, muscle cramps, paleness, excessive sweating, and nausea or vomiting.

Lying down on the ground with legs raised and drinking a sports drink, if there are no signs of hypernatremia, the individual should show signs of improvement within 10 minutes. Within 30 minutes the individual should be able to walk.

Heat Stroke

If symptoms are not treated it could lead to heat stroke, a more serious heat injury that requires immediate medical attention.

The most common symptoms are high body temperature of over 106 degrees Fahrenheit, Tachycardia or high pulse rate, high breathing rate, disorientation, emotional distress, seizure, hypotension or low blood pressure, and unconsciousness or coma.

The faster the body temperature is cooled the better the prognosis of treatment. Contact emergency services as soon as possible.

The victim can be placed in a cold water bath for no more than 10 minutes to reduce risk of hypothermia or low body temperature.

A bath is not always provided on the football field, so the next step would be to use cold water from a hose or use soaked towels.

Follow up on cooling the body with a sports drink and fanning to prevent sweat. When medical personnel arrive, the victim will be admitted into the hospital and evaluated from there.

 There are no regulations on durations and intensity of practices. This is a judgment the coaches measure individually to keep their players in shape and still not have them completely exhausted.

 “Between practices during our two-a-days, we come into the field house where it is air conditioned,” said Glover. “We keep them cool in here for
at least an hour or two hours
before we go back out on the field.”

“We can’t do anything during the dead period, the last week of June and the first week of July. That makes it tough on top of the heat index. We are just going to try to be mentally ready.”

August 1 will be the first day the county football players will be allowed to take the field in pads. 

“When it gets 104 heat index you absolutely cut practice off,” said Glover. “You cannot go outside and practice with or without pads.”

 “We do everything that we can and take every precaution to make sure that there is no heat stroke or any type of heat illness that they can suffer.”

Spectators should also use caution in the upcoming games by switching drinks from water to sports drinks. This will help produce enough fluid for the fluid versus sweat ratio, without causing hypernatremia.

More facts and information on heat and other sports related injuries can be found at