Even before the high school football season begins, Arizona’s coaches have been dealing with one of the biggest challenges each year. It comes with having to practice in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
Heat exhaustion poses a deadly risk for the players – and a serious challenge for their coaches.
And, unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. Even though the 2015-16 academic year has already started for many high schools, triple-digit temps could be with us for awhile.
Here in the desert, it’s a dry heat – which, in some ways, makes it more dangerous than other parts of the country. Heat illness from exertion under the unrelenting desert sun can sneak up on a player without warning.
External heat stroke is the leading cause of preventable death in high school sports; more than 9,000 high school athletes are treated for external heat illness each year. And football players, studies show, are 11 times more likely to suffer heat-related illnesses than all other high school sports combined.
Fortunately, Arizona has stepped up to the plate in dealing with the issue. In June of 2012, the state adopted heat-acclimation guidelines that were endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), becoming one of the earliest states to get on board with the program.
And now, Catalina Foothills High School has showed some innovation of its own in dealing with the problem.
The Tucson school met the challenge of the record-setting 117-degree temperature last Friday that topped the previous record of 113 degrees in Phoenix for that date. The Catalina coaches came up with a game plan for practice that should be shared with the rest of the Arizona schools.
A story published on the KOVA.com website explained how Catalina completely restructured its football practice to deal with Friday’s record-setting temperature.
According to the article, the players stepped on a scale to begin practice, and then repeated the procedure at the close of practice to make sure the athlete hadn’t lost too much weight through sweating. Too much loss meant they didn’t practice the next day.
Practice started that day with a video for players, instead of going directly to the field. That was followed by skill workouts in the gym – without pads, and then the players finally took the field shortly before sunset.
According to the Catalina head coach, Jeff Scurran, his coaches watch for signs of dehydration throughout their practices and allow the players to drink as much water as they want, whenever they want.
The bottom line: Heat illnesses are preventable. It just takes awareness and a little common sense.
And some times some thinking outside the box.