MHSAA reminds athletes to beat the heat

Players take a water break during a Chippewa Hills soccer practice.

EAST LANSING —  While this summer may have seemed to arrive late in many parts of Michigan, the warm and sunny weather over these last few weeks has provided another reminder that student-athletes must prepare for training in hot weather that traditionally accompanies the beginning of August as Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools began fall sports practices this month.

Each year, the MHSAA provides information to its member schools to help them prepare for hot weather practice and game conditions during the late summer and early fall. Practices for sports started this week.

The “Health & Safety” page of the MHSAA Website (www.mhsaa.com/Schools/Health-Safety-Resources) has a number of links to various publications and information including guidelines for acclimatization from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and recommendations on proper hydration from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The preseason publication Heat Ways also is available for download and includes valuable information on heat management in addition to requirements and resources regarding head injuries and sudden cardiac arrest.

The first days of formal practices in hot weather should be more for heat acclimatization than the conditioning of athletes, and practices in such conditions need planning to become longer and more strenuous over a gradual progression of time. Schools also must consider moving practices to different locations or different times of day, or change practice plans to include different activities depending on the conditions. Furthermore, football practice rules allow for only helmets to be worn during the first two days, only shoulder pads to be added on the third and fourth days, and full pads to not be worn until the fifth day of team practice.

The MHSAA advises student-athletes to make sure to hydrate all day long – beginning before practice, continuing during and also after practice is done. Water and properly-formulated sports drinks are the best choices for hydration, while energy drinks, high-carbohydrate fruit juices (greater than eight percent carb content), carbonated and caffeinated beverages are among those that should be avoided.

A number of member schools follow the MHSAA’s Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity, which while not mandated for member schools was adopted as a rule for MHSAA postseason competition in 2013. The plan directs schools to begin monitoring the heat index at the activity site once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees, and provides recommendations when the heat index reaches certain points, including ceasing activities when it rises above 104 degrees. (When the temperature is below 80 degrees, there is no combination of heat and humidity that will result in a need to curtail activity.) The model heat & humidity policy is outlined in a number of places on the MHSAA Website, including as part of Heat Ways.

“We work with our football team by monitoring the heat index and increasing breaks when needed,” Big Rapids football coach Mark Selzer said. “We also make sure that hydration is available to the players at all times. We don’t have specific water breaks, players are provided and encouraged to hydrate during practice and drills water bottles are provided at each drill or station, after a rep players can get drinks.  Our athletic trainer Jess VanTroosenberghe does a great job of keeping me informed of the heat index and providing a cooling station for our athletes.”

“Heat illness is not something to mess around with,” Evart football coach Pat Craven said. “Our Evart football team takes all of the precautions outlined by the MHSAA and implements them into our practice schedule.  We have a designated ‘Coach Heat’ who takes appropriate heat index readings and ensures we are staying tight to the MHSAA guidelines. This practice has been occurring for 4 or 5 years now and we feel as though we have a solid handle on things. We monitor fluid intake and make sure all football athletes receive proper hydration time throughout practice. We also may remove helmets and/or shoulder pads for certain portions of practice when the heat index calls for it.

“We ask our kids to hydrate early and often throughout their day, long before ever coming to practice.  Proper hydration can become a struggle when school begins as some classrooms have rules regarding drinks in class. In these instances we try to educate teachers, staff, and school administration so that they fully understand the importance of hydration to all kids, not just athletes. Watering the brain is so important to solid mental health and activity.”

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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