Soccer kids

Girls softballSchool’s out, the books are packed away, and students are ready for summer sports and some fun in the sun.

Knowing how to train and play safely in extreme heat is critical to avoid heat illness. With temperatures in Iowa already reaching dangerously high levels this year, it’s important to take steps to stay safe.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is safe to play sports in hot, humid weather, as long as precautions are taken and the drive to win doesn’t trump common sense. Listed here are some tips for playing it safe this summer.

Proper attire. Wear light-colored, breathable clothing (e.g., net-type jerseys, cotton t-shirts). Dark colors attract the sun’s rays, increasing body heat. Bring a change of clothing for longer practices. A perspiration-soaked t-shirt does not allow sweat to evaporate from the skin. Evaporation is key in cooling the body.

Avoid unusually hot/humid days. Modifications to practice are recommended when the heat index is 95 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g., removing pads or equipment during non-contact times and scheduling practice for early or later in the day to avoid peak sun time). Further modifications should be made when the heat index is 99 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g., schedule time for athletes to change into dry clothes and reduce practice time). If the heat index is above 104 degrees, physical activity should be stopped.

Get acclimated. Young athletes should be given about two weeks to adapt to their first practice or competition, with gradually increasing intensity and duration. Acclimating to the heat allows the body to cool more efficiently by increasing sweat production.

player drinking waterWater breaks. Dehydration can affect performance and cause fatigue. Athletes should be well hydrated before practice and continue hydrating during and after physical activity. Longer workout sessions need more frequent breaks for water (e.g., 10-minute water break, in the shade if possible, for every 30-45 minutes of activity). A 6% carbohydrate solution (e.g., Gatorade®) helps supplement energy loss and helps improve performance when consumed during workouts lasting longer than 45 minutes.

Recognize signs of heat-related illness. Everyone involved should be educated about the signs of heat stress. Heat illness and dehydration usually strike first and display the following warning signs:

  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Decreased performance
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting

A more serious form of heat-related illness is heat stroke. Heat stroke causes the body temperature to rise dangerously high and may result in death. Heat stroke symptoms include an altered mental state, confusion, seizures and coma. Immediately stop activity and activate your emergency action plan for immediate medical attention for an athlete experiencing these symptoms. Begin rapid cooling of the athlete as soon as possible using ice bags, ice towels or ice bath, and remove the athlete from direct sun exposure.

Kids with symptoms should be sidelined and treated immediately; athletes should be encouraged to report if teammates seem to be struggling.  

Avoid or limit exercise and training if you are recovering from a recent illness. Some illnesses, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, can cause dehydration and adversely affect body temperature regulation.

Use sweat-proof, waterproof sunscreen. Sunburn affects the body’s natural ability to cool down. This leads to serious heat-related illnesses.

Learn more about KHC’s Sports Medicine services.


References: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Red Cross

The information on this blog is provided for general information purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, care, treatment or evaluation; nor should it be used in diagnosing a health condition. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider if you or a family member has or suspect you have a medical problem.