Too hot for football practice?

My 11-year old son plays football. We live in Texas where afternoon temperatures, during practice, tend to be in the 90s, with heat index above 100. Practice is two hours and they get only one water break, usually 60 to 90 minutes into practice. Is this enough? Are there possible future health risks associated with this practice?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

You bring up an outstanding and timely question. With school starting, many sports activities begin as well. But while there are outstanding health benefits to organized sports, the summertime adds an important health risk, namely heat exhaustion and dehydration.

For a long time, football practice was a place where hard work was defined as strenuous exercise without a whole lot of water. There was almost a stigma for anyone who took a lot of water breaks during practice. With football becoming so competitive and such a huge spectator sport even at the high school level, the official start of practice has gradually become earlier and earlier in the year. This combination of summertime practice with inadequate water intake has landed a number of teen age boys in the hospital.

Some athletic programs have refused to recognize the dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion. They will cite how the lack of water makes the players tougher and how they have never had trouble with heat exhaustion before. These are simply silly statements which quite honestly put the players at a significant health risk. Fortunately, many coaches and athletic trainers have learned of the advances in what we know about sports athletes and hydration. In the elite Olympic class athlete, being in a state of even minimal dehydration will very significantly decrease performance. Most of these superior athletes go through very regimented schedules of becoming well hydrated 30 minutes prior to practice or an event and then staying very well hydrated throughout practice. Simply put, we know that hydration is one of the most important factors in maximizing performance. This fact has swayed even the most stubborn coach.

A good rule of thumb is if the athlete is feeling thirsty, he or she is already in a state of minor dehydration. Most good coaches these days have scheduled water breaks but also make water very readily available throughout practice. Having the coach emphasize to all team members that they drink plenty during practice will help eliminate any misdirected peer pressure of not stopping by the water cooler.

It is difficult to say whether the one water break is adequate or not because it all depends upon the temperature, humidity, how vigorous practice is, and whether they are practicing in full pads or not. However, how many water breaks is not so important if the kids have ready access to water and they use it. This requires some forethought on the coaches part. Coolers need to be close at hand, and the kids have to be encouraged to use it. This strategy helps keep the athletes safe and the coach stocked with players working at their peak.

I hope this helps.

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