By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
As summer activities wind down with an eye toward the beginning of fall sports next month, the MHSAA advises that student-athletes need to prepare for training in the hot weather that traditionally accompanies the beginning of August and the first practices of the school year.
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. Football practice can begin at MHSAA schools August 6, followed by first practices for all other fall sports August 8.
The topic of heat-related injuries receives a lot of attention at this time of year, especially when deaths at the professional, collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport occur, and especially since they are preventable in most cases with the proper precautions.
“This month’s high temperatures across much of Michigan served as a reminder that we all must take a role in making sure our student-athletes are ready for hot weather as practices get underway,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “At the start of every fall, we point out that with proper precautions and planning, heat illness is almost always preventable. It is imperative that we continue to emphasize this message and teach the best practices for staying safe both to our returning student-athletes and those taking part for the first time.”
Heat, hydration and acclimatization continue to be focuses of the MHSAA’s required preseason rules meetings for coaches and officials. The online presentations discuss the need for good hydration in sports, regardless of the activity or time of year, and informs both how to recognize the early signs of heat illness and the immediate steps to take to respond to those symptoms. The MHSAA requires all head varsity, varsity assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete the rules and risk minimization meeting requirement.
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.
Roberts also emphasized that student-athletes should 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. The “Health & Safety” page of the MHSAA Website has a number of links to various publications and information including recommendations on proper hydration from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
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 the publication Heat Ways, also available for download from the “Health & Safety” page.