Football Practices Begin – How To Deal With The Heat

Indianapolis Star, Kyl Neddenriep


Twenty-four football players have died due to heat-related injuries in the past 10 years, according to a study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.

Each could be alive today at the cost of $25.

High school football practice begins today in Indiana — coincidentally the 10th anniversary of the death of former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer to complications arising from heat stroke — with temperatures expected to rise into the 90s. Heat index has become as much a part of football terminology as hot reads, and practice times have shifted to the mornings and early evenings, but even as awareness of the dangers of heat-related injuries rises, players are still dying needlessly, according to some doctors and athletic trainers.

Those lives could be saved by something as simple and inexpensive as a kiddie pool and a few bags of ice.

“Cold water immersion is the gold standard,” said Douglas Casa, a researcher and professor at the University of Connecticut and chief operating officer of the school’s Korey Stringer Institute. “It doesn’t matter what your body temperature is; if your body is cooled quickly enough, you will be out of danger.”

Casa said the first five or 10 minutes are crucial to determining whether an individual can survive a heat stroke brought on by exertion. Having a tub of ice water readily available is key; Casa said an individual’s temperature could rise as high as 110 degrees and he could still be saved with a quick response.

“The concept of cooling first and transporting (to a hospital) second is so important,” Casa said. “You don’t have a lot of minutes to deal with, but if you can get them under 104 within 30 minutes, they can be saved.”

The idea of cooling down after a strenuous workout isn’t new, but more and more college and NFL teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, are keeping cold water tubs next to the field. The benefit may go beyond safety. Some doctors, Casa included, believe it allows for a quicker recovery.

Ralph Reiff, director of sports medicine and sports performance for St. Vincent Hospital, said his high school son sits in a 55-gallon plastic tub full of cold water and ice after his workouts.

“It really serves two purposes. Having that ice on the sidelines for emergencies prevents a lot of issues. And from the standout point of a recovery process, it really helps you get started for the next day,” he said.

Most heat stroke cases occur in the first few days of practice, Casa said, when athletes’ bodies haven’t adjusted to the hot and humid temperatures. Because most high schools don’t have a team of trainers — or even one trainer at some — the warning signs for heat-related illness can go undetected.

“In a lot of cases, it comes down to the high school coaches,” Casa said. “They aren’t really qualified to be looking for those warning signs. That’s not their area of expertise.”

Warren Central football coach John Hart believes there is more change coming, which will help coaches monitor heat exhaustion. He recently attended a 7-on-7 camp in Alabama, where one of the teams had helmets that monitor a player’s temperature. A built-in radio transmits the information to the sideline when a player’s temperature reaches a dangerous level.

“I think that will eventually be a requirement, to be honest,” Hart said. “Football is an expensive sport as it is, but I think that’s the next piece coming. We have one of the great trainers, Michael Thompson, and he gauges everything very strictly, but I think these computer chips will also be able to help us.”

Despite the new technology, Casa believes coaches should take the inexpensive measure of bringing an ice-filled tub to the sideline. It could save a life.

“Whatever the pros are doing, and rightly so, it usually trickles down,” Reiff said. “I would not be surprised if it becomes a recommendation. I know high school coaches have a million other things going on and this can get lost in the shuffle, but it’s also important to educate the athletes so they know how important it is.”

Leave a Reply