Football heat-related deaths preventable

August 2, 2008 8:49:01 AM PDT
The first few weeks of high school football practice are the ones coaches watch closest for heat stress.

One UNC professor says coaches should do more. He says there's absolutely no excuse for a heat-related death on the gridiron.

Jordan High School coach Mike Briggs recalls a different outlook on heat and water when he played as at the school 25 years ago.

Over the years, health experts have tallied the heat-related deaths on the high school, college and professional fields. Since 1995, 33 player have died from heat stroke.

Twenty-five of those deaths were on high school fields.

"It makes you more aware of everything that's going on," Briggs says.

A UNC-Chapel Hill professor has gone so far as to say there is no excuse for heat-related deaths on the football field because it's preventable.

Coach Briggs says that may be true. He says coaches cannot watch players away from the field when they should be eating and re-hydrating before and after practice.

"A lot of that has to depend on the athlete them self," Briggs says. "There's only so much anyone else can do."

The UNC researcher has 11 steps to prevent heat stress. The most challenging for coaches may be a recommendation to rest 15-30 minutes for every hour of practice.

"To really get done what you need, you would need a 4-5 hour practice," Briggs says.

He says his program takes water very seriously. In 19 years, he still remembers the one player who fainted because of heat.

"It's not a joke," Briggs says. "It's not funny. It's actually scary when you know what's happening."

Other recommendations from UNC's National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research include:

  • Players should weigh themselves before and after practice.
  • Coaches should not ration water.
  • Players who are overweight are more susceptible to heat stress.

Coach Briggs says parents should make sure their players are drinking lots of water at home.


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