It that time of year again; school is getting out, Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and summer sports are starting in full swing! Age-group track meets in 100 degree heat for hours, football summer workouts on fields so hot the rubber on the cleats is starting to melt, and soccer games in humidity that can actually kill you! Whether you live in Texas or Rhode Island; the summer heat kills child athletes every year!
How can you keep your child safe and still let them fully participate in summer sports? Here are some simple tips to follow to keep your athlete's safe:
- Listen to your body - Teach your child that heat cramps lead to heat exhaustion, which leads to heat stroke. Stop when you feel cramping, not when you feel like passing out! This is not the time of year to "suck it up" and be the tough guy. Tough guys can actually die from being stubborn! Tell them if they feel "weak and whoozy" it's past the time to stop! Seek attention immediately by telling their parents or coach.
- Reduce the intensity of your workout when it's hot - Remember that the higher the temperature and humidity, the harder your body has to work for the same speed. Tell your child to use perceived exertion as an index. Every day is different and they need to be in tune with their exertion level. I tell my track athletes that if they can't talk when they are running more than 15 minutes then they are running too fast for the temperature!
- Take time to get used to the conditions - It takes a full two weeks of heat and humidity to "get used to it." The body has been shown to take 8 to 10 increments of 30 to 45 minutes in the heat to acclimatize. Give yourself some time in the early season to become heat-tolerant.
- Drink plenty of fluids - Most children are already dehydrated when they start practice or competition. Encourage them to drink at least a pint of water two hours before practice and then at least 8 ounces, 15 minutes before any competition.
- Keep drinking periodically during practice or any long competitions - Use an electrolyte replacing sports drink if the duration of exercise is more than an hour. Remind your child to drink at least every 20 minutes even if the don't feel thirsty. By the time they are thirsty, most are already dehydrated.
- A good way to gauge fluid loss is weight loss - Weigh in before and after competition. Replace the loss after competition to maintain hydration.
- Wear loose, sweat wicking, light colored clothing - There are lots of synthetic materials on the market that help wick sweat away from your body and keep you cool. This is not the time of year for cotton t-shits and shorts. Spend the money on proper clothing to keep your child cool.
- Wear sunscreen and replenish regularly - Sweating or swimming in a pool for more than 30 minutes will wash off even the most "waterproof sunscreen." Keep reapplying. Remember that blistering sunburns in childhood have been linked to skin cancer in adults!
Heat-related illness claim young lives every year. Don't let your athlete be the sun's next victim! Follow these tips and discuss heat illness with your child athlete before it's too late!