Getting Your Kids Ready To Play Sports In The Heat
It’s that time of year again. We are a few short weeks away from the start of the rec and High School fall sports practices. In Baltimore County, we start earlier this year (August 10th) which means your kids need to start now to make sure they are acclimatized to the summer heat and humidity.
What is Heat Acclimatization?
Acclimatization is a broad term that can be loosely defined as a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress in a controlled environment over the course of 7 to 14 days. These adaptations are beneficial to exercise in the heat and allow the body to better cope with heat stress.
How to Acclimatize to the Heat
Getting used to the heat is a process and should be gradual. We cannot expect an athlete that has not been exposed to the heat and humidity to safely play. Each year there are tragic cases where students who suffer from heat illness and even deadly heat stroke because they did not take the appropriate steps before practices began.
Heat acclimation takes approximately 10–14 days to fully occur. However, differences in personal fitness and geographic location can alter this time frame. Many High School teams have structured summer conditioning programs working not only on increasing the athletes strength and conditioning but also allowing the kids to practice outside in the warmer weather. If your program does not offer this we recommend starting with lower intensity shorter duration activities and gradually increase daily as you become more adjusted to the heat. This intensity and duration (time) will continue for a full 14 days as tolerated.
As the body becomes more and more used to exercising in the heat, physiological adaptation will occur. The first benefit will be a decreased heart rate, which typically happens in the first week while more regulated sweating can take several weeks. Your body’s sweating will become more and more efficient doing a better job cooling you.
Remember, heat acclimatization does not last forever. Without consistent training in the heat, acclimatization is usually lost in about 2 weeks.
Tips to reduce the possibility of Heat Stress
- Acclimate like explained above.
- Account for heat and humidity. Especially in the Baltimore area. We have many days with high humidity that just increase the overall temperature. Remember, the higher the humidity the harder it is for your body to cool itself by sweating and avoid practices and workouts during the “Code Red” days.
- Provide for frequent breaks. Adjust the activity level and provide frequent rest periods during hot weather (at least 15 minutes per hour of practice). Rest in shaded areas and have plenty of water available. If the athletes are wearing helmets, they should be allowed to remove them during breaks.
- Weigh athletes before and after practice.Athletes should be weighed before and after each practice to monitor water loss. Weight loss greater than 3% indicates a substantial risk and 5% a significant danger to the student athlete. Make sure that the athlete gains all their weight back prior to practicing the next session.
- No heavy or wet clothing. We are fortunate to have many choices with moisture wicking clothing. Avoid heavy cotton clothing as these tend to collect sweat and get heavy. If you don’t have a choice, bring an extra shirt to change into during one of your breaks.
- Identify athletes at greater risk. Athletes come in all sizes and shapes. Many have different condition levels or other conditions that may predispose them to heat illness. These include obesity, illness and diabetes. Athletes who have experienced a heat illness in the past should be monitored as they can be at a greater risk.
- Learn the warning signs. Know what to look for. Some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration include, profuse sweating, fatigue, lethargy and confusion. Any athlete showing these signs should be removed from practice / play and immediately cooled down with ice towels, water and placed in a cool shaded area.
Sports are a fun activity for millions and millions of kids. Those playing in warmer environments need to take the extra steps to prepare their bodies to be safe and successful.