Athletic practices and competitions in the summer and early fall months are subject to extremely high temperatures and humidity levels; both of which are cause for concern when outdoor activities are taking place. The obvious thoughts of sunscreen and hydration are still very important. For coaches, parents, athletic trainers and school districts, here’s a look at the topic of heat and humidity as it relates to athletics.
Recently, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) revealed their “Four Thrusts in Four Years” campaign, which it hopes to be effective in addressing some of the most pressing health and safety issues of school sports. The four emphases are:
• Require more initial and ongoing sports safety training for more coaches.
• Implement heat and humidity management policies at all schools for all sports.
• Revise practice policies generally, but especially for early in the fall season.
• Modify game rules to reduce the frequency of the most dangerous play situations, and to reduce head trauma.
The model policy from the MHSAA states, “…member schools should adopt a policy to minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses in interscholastic athletic programs”, beginning with the 2013-14 school year. The MHSAA is acting on behalf of common sense and sound judgement that should already be in place. However, this is not the case since a policy was created to address specifics.
The policy also requires a member school to designate the task of recording the heat index 30 minutes prior to the start of an activity and then again 60 minutes after the start of the activity. These readings are to be taken at the site of the activity, including indoor facilities such as gymnasiums and other designated practice areas. The non-air conditioned gyms will present a tremendous problem in the dog days of August and early September.
The default designee will most likely be the school’s athletic trainer, if one is present. This is probably the best choice, and here’s why:
- If the Heat Index readings fall between 95 – 99 degrees, reduce the time of outdoors activity. Also, recheck the Heat Index every 30 minutes.
- Coaches of fall sports are immersed in teaching, leading drills and accomplishing certain goals for each practice session. They are not necessarily tuned into the safety concerns, a schedule other than the one for practice and typically not the passage of time.
- The decision to curtail a practice session, remove gear or halt a session is dependent upon the Heat Index scale. This should not be a matter of interpretation.
- Coaches may be opposed to the limitations placed on their practices and thus should not be the primary person responsible for taking, recording and determining the Heat Index reading as it relates to their practices. This is consistent with the MHSAA’s Weight Monitoring Program in wrestling that specifically prohibits coaches from being Assessor’s – it’s a conflict of interest, not in the best interest of student-athlete health and welfare.
A policy shouldn’t be necessary when common sense and sound judgement are in play, and while the task of tracking heat index is a good idea, the real preventative measures take place when there is an athletic trainer on site to provide guidance and decision making based on an evaluation and appropriate treatment measures are taken. This remains a problem nationally as there are only approximately 50% of all secondary schools with access to a certified athletic trainer.