HEALTH

Keeping student-athletes safe in the heat

Jul 27, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: Sep 11, 2023, 11:17 am

Springville High School football team behind WGBT...

Springville High School football team behind WGBT

SALT LAKE CITY — They are back out on the fields. Football players, soccer players and cross-country runners are all in training now for their upcoming seasons. How do student-athletes train safely in this heat?

“Every school in the state of Utah, at no charge to themselves if they have a football team, are able to get a Wet Bulb Glow Temperature device or WBGT,” said Lisa Walker, certified athletic trainer and teacher at Springville High School. “That device takes a combination of measurements. What is the actual temperature where the practice is taking place? What is the humidity? What is the wind speed? Then it comes out with a general reading.”

The WBGT is easy to use because it is color-coded in green, yellow, orange, red and black.

“We make adjustments or cancellations based on being in a color for ten minutes or more,” Walker explained.

For instance, if the bulb goes to red, they make modifications to practice.

“We stop it temporarily or we might remove some equipment,” Walker said. “Temperatures on the turf are much hotter than temperatures on the grass. So if you have a turf field and it’s red on the turf, it might be green on the grass. You could simply move the kids to a cooler location.”

Walker said earlier this week, there was a school that was both black on the turf and black on the grass, so they delayed their practice and came back a few hours later when it was cooler.

How to handle student-athletes and the heat

Everybody needs to stay hydrated. Everyone should stay in the shade if they can. Student-athletes are not the only ones who should be aware of the clothing they’re wearing. Everyone needs clothes that allow the heat to dissipate.

“Your body works like a swamp cooler,” Walker explained. “As you sweat, as long as there is the ability for that sweat to evaporate, we do pretty much OK. But if we run out of enough fluid to sweat, we’re in trouble. If we have clothes that trap the heat, we’re in trouble.”

Student-athletes of all ages heat up and dehydrate much quicker when they’re exerting.

What can parents do?

“When you’re going to put your children (or yourself for that matter) out there to compete, you need to do some checking,” said Walker. “Do they have the right personnel in place? Do they have the equipment necessary? Do they have a plan that they’re going to follow in the event of an emergency?”

“Don’t just say, ‘It’s hot. I did it when I was a kid’.”

Second, Walker suggested you weigh your child at home before the match.

“Then weigh again when you get back home,” she said. “How many pounds did they lose? That will be water. Then replace that with about 20 ounces of any liquid with electrolytes.”

It’s also important to remember that even athletes working out indoors can suffer from heat-related illnesses.

“We can’t be deceived that because they’re inside, they’re safe,” Walker said. “It might be hot and stuffy inside. So we can use the WBGT device inside, as well.”

The general advice for parents? We need to be mindful of where are the kids, what the WGBT tells us, and what modifications, if any, do we need to make.

“We worry about everybody in the heat right now, but with the right equipment and right personnel in place, we should be ok on the fields, but modifications have to be respected,” Walker emphasized.

The biggest environmental issue?

Walker said that the biggest environmental issue facing our athletes on the field is not heat. It’s lightning.

“At my football practice last night, we delayed it for lighting and eventually called it off because the storms were converging,” said Walker. “There are apps you can use, but once lightning gets within a 10-mile radius of your location, you need to go indoors.”

Notably, when Walker called off the practice, she noticed a youth group right in the same area that stayed on the field.

“We’ve got protections in place to protect the kids,” Walker summarized. “We just need the equipment out there, which they have free access to, and we need the right personnel out there actually doing it and monitoring it.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Keeping student-athletes safe in the heat