The extreme heat and humidity this summer has made high school football workouts even more dangerous in Southwest Louisiana for athletes not prepared to face it. Part of that preparation is hydration and times have certainly changed when it comes to how coaches handle water breaks.
Their summer vacation has not ended yet, but Westlake High School football players will be ready when it does. "It's different than a lot of other states here," said junior quarterback, Tim Hamilton, "it's hot!"
Hamilton and his teammates are getting conditioned to the extreme heat now, before their season starts under the hot Friday night lights. "Looking in Louisiana, in August and September, it is very hot and we take all the precautions with fluids and having the personnel on staff, such as doctors and trainers," said head coach Shawn Demeritt.
Demeritt says things have changed since his days on the field, when players were typically limited to only one water break. There was also a misconception with the generation before him that handed out salt tablets to prevent dehydration. "It raised the awareness of taking care of your body and the old belief that water makes you weak...that's just wrong," he said.
Heat-related deaths among high school and college football players in the United States nearly tripled between 1994 and 2009 with an average of three players dying each year.
It is something Lake Charles Memorial Sports Medicine trainer Jason Rodriguez looks out for every day with his teams. "The problem that we run across is when they quit sweating. That's when it's gotten too far and they've been dehydrated that much that they're going into heat exhaustion and the early stages of heat stroke," he said.
A healthy at-home hydration regimen is crucial to being healthy on the field and Rodriguez says it should be a 50/50 mix of water and sports drinks that replace electrolytes - like sodium. "The sodium helps retain water. Too much sodium can lead to too much water retention and not enough sodium just won't aid the body enough in keeping that water in them," he said.
It only takes about thirty minutes for an athlete to sweat out a bottle of water, so refills need to happen every twenty minutes to avoid some unfortunate sideline scenes. "You can just pass out," said Hamilton, "I've seen that and I've seen people throw up. I've seen people just stand there and fall from not drinking enough water."
Prevention is easy: keep the water close by, mix in the sports drinks with electrolyte replacements and speak up when dizziness or nausea becomes a factor.
St. Tammany Parish signed a new policy into effect last year to protect student athletes against the heat. The "Extreme Heat and Hydration Policy" is a guideline for coaches and trainers to monitor the heat. Any heat index over 110 means a "black flag," and outdoor practices are prohibited.