In the outdoor fall sports and activities of football, cross country, soccer, field hockey and marching band, more than 3.5 million students will be preparing for another season of competition and of shows.
As is usually the case at this time of year, the heat and its effects are front page news in many parts of the country. So, as practices begin in the coming weeks, preparations must include a return to one of the basic tenets of high school sports and other activity programs – minimizing the risk of injury for everyone involved in these programs.
Coaches, sports administrators and sports trainers must have effective prevention plans in place so that participating students are fully protected against heat-related illnesses and injuries. When it comes to heat-related fatalities in football, focus must continue on an annual basis.
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR), over the past five-year period (2017-2021), football has averaged 2.4 exertional heat stroke (EHS) deaths per year, compared to 1.4 per year in the previous five years. – one-year period (2012-2016). This increase supports urgent efforts to educate coaches, school administrators, medical providers, players and parents regarding proper procedures and precautions when practicing or playing in the heat.
With regards to heatstroke deaths over the past five years, the NCCSIR report urges proper oversight and monitoring of conditioning sessions and precautions for lineman positions in football. Five of the 11 deaths occurred during conditioning sessions, and nine of the 11 deaths were linemen.
Although there are approximately one million high school football participants each year, one death from heat stroke is too many because EHS is preventable. It is, in fact, the leading cause of preventable death in high school athletics.
In addition to soccer and other outdoor fall sports, marching band participants are equally susceptible to the effects of heat. Like their counterparts on the sports field, music managers should plan for a slow, gradual acclimatization period before marching season.
The NFHS, through its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and the NFHS Learning Center, offers many educational tools to help schools develop an appropriate heat acclimatization and prevention program. heat-related illnesses. Additionally, many state associations have developed state-specific guidelines for dealing with heat and safety concerns.
The SMAC has developed a “Position statement on heat acclimatization and heat illness preventionwhich is available on the NFHS website. This document contains seven basic elements of a heat acclimatization program. Moreover, the “Position statement and recommendations for maintaining hydration to optimize performance and minimize the risk of exertional heat illnessis also available on the sports medicine page of the NFHS website.
Additionally, the NFHS offers a free online course titled Prevention of heat-induced illnesses. This course, available at www.nfhslearn.com, also examines the seven basic principles of a heat acclimatization program. Additionally, to address the necessary precautions for marching band participants, the NFHS has a free course titled Tape Security.
Among the fundamental principles of a heat acclimatization program are 1) a slow progression of activity level – duration and intensity; 2) adjusting workouts as heat and humidity increase, including close monitoring and rapid response to developing problems; and 3) good hydration.
Three other Learning Center courses should be part of the pre-season tutorials for all key members of the school team: The collapsed athlete, Sudden cardiac arrest and Concussion in sport.
As an additional resource, earlier this year the NFHS Foundation announced a grant program to distribute 5,000 Wet Bulb Thermometers (WBGTs) to high schools across the country. The WBGT measures heat stress in direct sunlight, taking into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. Secondary schools can use the thermometer reading to help determine if the weather is suitable for organizing outdoor activities.
While coaches only have a prescribed number of practices before that first competition in fall sports, the rush to get the team in top shape for the first game cannot come at the expense of player health. The varying physical conditions of players should be taken into account and special consideration should be given to high-risk students.
EHS deaths will not be eliminated unless school leaders make it a top priority. We encourage every athletic trainer and band manager to take the free online courses – Heat Illness Prevention and Band Safety – at www.nfhslearn.com. It might be the best investment of time this year.