Playing It Cool in the Heat by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Playing It Cool in the Heat
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

During the first game of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, Heat superstar LeBron James had to be carried off the court due to extreme cramps.

The air conditioning had malfunctioned and temperatures inside AT&T Center soared to near 90 degrees. Following the game, even after popping salt tablets and potassium pills, James still needed two bags of fluids via IV.

Before James suffered the painful cramps, his team was ahead. They lost, 110-95.

The next day social media and sports talk radio exploded with commentary on James’   cramps. Some people questioned his commitment to his teammates and dedication to the game. Fans tweeted jokes. They called James a crybaby, soft and weak.

As a mother of a young athlete, I found the reaction disturbing. Some of the comments from fans and journalists seemed to suggest that real men ignore warning signs and play until they collapse.

It’s a message that children hear too often. Despite all the public address announcements and safety posters, kids are called sissies, punks or babies for simply showing signs of heat-related illness.

It’s a dangerous, and potentially deadly message. Especially for children in Florida, where summer heat and humidity are intense.

How many stories have we heard about some child collapsing in the heat? How heartbreaking, we say.

The Korey Stringer Institute reports that heat is among the top three reasons athletes die during sport. The University of Connecticut-based institute bears the name of a former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman who, in 2001, collapsed and died during extreme heat in practice.

Despite vomiting three times in a morning practice, Stringer, 27, soldiered on in 90-degree heat. He never sought assistance, until after practice. Despite playing in the NFL, with professional trainers and medical staff nearby, Stringer ignored warning signs. He died later that afternoon when his organs shut down.

He did what so many suggested James do. It’s what far too many youth coaches tell players: suck it up.

Instead, our kids need to listen up. They need to understand the difference between lack of effort and the onslaught of heat-related illness. They must be encouraged to pay attention to red flags that may suggest it’s time to take a breather, especially in the summer months.

According to the Korey Stringer Institute the majority of heat stroke cases occur during the initial summer workouts “when athletes are neither prepared to cope with the environmental conditions nor the new physiological demands placed upon them during workout sessions.”

That’s why high school football coaches throughout Polk County are required to ease players into workouts. They follow heat acclimatization guidelines similar to those recommended by the Korey Stringer Institute.

Polk County Schools operate under the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Heat Acclimatization policy, instituted in 2012.

Although football practice garners the most attention, the FHSAA’s policy is a requirement for all sports. They define the acclimatization period as the first 14 days of athletic participation. All athletes, even those who join the team after a few days of practice, must adhere to the policy.

Easing players into outdoor activities is a good policy even for children who don’t participate in organized sports. The same guidelines can be used for summer camps, family recreation, outdoor play, lawn maintenance or any activity performed in the heat.

Of course there are things parents can do to help prevent heat-related illness. Schedule outdoor activities earlier in the day when temperatures are milder. Observe warnings from local weather forecast. Limit activity in direct sunlight. Take breaks in shade or air conditioned areas. Avoid diuretic drinks such as coffee and caffeinated soft drinks.

Wearing lightweight, loose clothing in heat-friendly fabric also helps. Remember, in the heat, cotton is not your friend.

Educate your child on the warning signs and ways to treat heat-related illness, including dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of dehydration may include dry mouth, thirst, low or no urine output; concentrated urine that appears dark yellow, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and cramps. Severe dehydration can cause nausea, vomiting, lethargy and even coma.

If you suspect your child is suffering from heat exhaustion, immediately move them to a cool place. Provide fluids. Water is best, but you can also give them clear juice or sports drinks such as Gatorade. If they continue to show symptoms take them to see doctor.

Whatever you do, don’t dismiss complaints of fatigue. Never ridicule them for acknowledging that they suspect something is wrong with their body. In fact, applaud their maturity for recognizing they need to take a break.

You can also help by modeling sound judgment. Take breaks when you’re out in the heat. Explain the benefits of proper hydration in the same way you tell your child why it’s important to eat spinach.

Use high-profile stories as teachable moments. Whether you are a Miami Heat fan, hater, or are indifferent to basketball, James modeled appropriate behavior.

It’s how we want our kids to respond at summer camp or football practice when we can’t be there to protect them. We want them to ignore the name-calling.

If one day they feel nauseous and they hear a friend or even a coach yell “man up,” we want them to ignore the ignorant, listen up, seek help, and stay safe.