Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are all serious (in some cases fatal) heat-induced conditions. It is imperative for the safety of your players and volunteers that you and your coaches know how to identify and treat them.
When a body loses too much water and salt through sweat, muscles tend to cramp (particularly in the abdomen and legs). Players suffering from these painful “heat cramps” should:
- Rest in a shady spot.
- Sip one glass of cool water every 15 minutes until the pain relents.
If the player’s parents are on hand, have them help by:
- Massaging the affected muscles.
- Applying cool, wet cloths to help relax the muscles.
Players with cool, moist, or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, or muscle cramps may be experiencing heat exhaustion. This condition occurs when, because of high humidity or restrictive clothing, sweat is not properly evaporated and the body cannot cool down. To assist a player experiencing heat exhaustion:
- Have the player lie down in a shady spot and elevate his or her feet.
- Remove the child’s shoes, shin guards, and socks.
- Apply cold packs to the armpit and scalp areas.
- Have the player drink water or an electrolyte solution.
- Dampen the player’s skin with cool cloths.
- Fan the player to help evaporate excess sweat.
If the player’s parents are on hand, have them:
- Remove the player’s shirt.
- Apply cold packs to the groin area.
When a body completely loses the ability to cool itself, the internal temperature continues to rise resulting in heat stroke. If a player’s temperature rises too quickly, brain damage and/or death may result. Players suffering from heat stroke may have hot, dry skin — those with fair complexions may appear red, while darker-skinned individuals may appear gray. Victims may also experience a very rapid pulse and extremely high body temperature. In some cases, victims of heat stroke may seem confused, unresponsive, or even suffer from seizures. Recovery from heatstroke depends on the amount of time it takes to return the body temperature to normal, so immediate medical attention is imperative.
If you suspect that a player is suffering from heat stroke:
- Call 911 immediately.
- Follow the recommended treatment for heat exhaustion.
- DO NOT attempt to give any liquids.
- Contact the player’s parents.
Professional soccer players lose seven and a half pounds of sweat during a game. In order to avoid serious heat-induced conditions, players must drink enough fluids to replace that sweat. Every player should carry his or her own sports bottle to practice, and coaches need to stop for drink breaks every 15 minutes during the summer. Symptoms of dehydration may include:
- Dry lips and tongue.
- Sunken eyes.
- Dizziness or a loss of energy.
In addition to staying hydrated, wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in light colors will help keep the body cool. Coaches must remember to conduct shorter, easier practices in the summer.