The Heat Is On

Posted by:

I have lived in Kentucky all my life, and this is definitely the hottest summer I can remember.  Our geography here can make it miserable in times of extreme heat because of the abundance of clay soil and its poor heat dissipation properties, and the miles and miles of rivers and streams that can add to the humidity.  This combination of extreme heat and humidity are merely an inconvenience for some of us, causing us to delay mowing the yard or postpone that golf outing, but for our young athletes gearing up for fall sports the heat can be very dangerous.

According to a recent study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, there were 33 heat related deaths in football between 1995 and 2008.  Of those 33 players who died of heat stroke, 25 were high school athletes.  The most tragic thing about these numbers is that heat injury or illness is almost entirely preventable.

Heat injury or illness occurs because as the athlete sweats in response to the heat, the body loses fluids and electrolytes.  If these are not adequately replaced, then the body can lose its ability to regulate temperature, which leads to heat exhaustion or heat stroke and even death.  The early symptoms of heat illness can be dizziness, thirst, weakness, headache, dry mouth, chills, and dark colored urine.  As heat illness progresses, symptoms such as muscle cramps, nausea, difficulty breathing, and tingling of the extremities can develop.  If these severe symptoms are recognized, treatment is focused on cooling the athlete by getting them into the shade, water immersion for cooling, providing cool fluids for hydration, and seeking medical attention.

The best treatment of heat illness is prevention.  Some key prevention points are listed here:

  • Hydration or fluid replacement before, during, and after exercise
  • Appropriate light colored clothing, one layer if possible
  • Proper training and acclimatization to the heat
  • Early recognition of symptoms of heat illness by coaches, trainers, other players

Having an athletic trainer on site for practices and games during the heat can dramatically reduce the incidence of heat-related injury and illness.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association partnered with the Kentucky Medical Association in the early 2000s to adopt a set of rules related to practicing and playing sports in the heat.  Even though football gets the most attention, these rules apply to all sports regardless of season.  The rules begin with an accurate measurement of the heat index at the site of the practice or game.  Schools cannot simply rely on a smartphone application or the Weather Channel report for the area.  A device called a sling psychrometer is used to measure the temperature and humidity on the field and then converted to a heat index measurement.  This heat index is the basis for the KHSAA guidelines, and I have summarized them below.  If you are a coach, trainer, etc. at a school and you want the complete guidelines or any other document related to the heat policies, see this KHSAA page.

Heat Index (as measured on field) Guidelines
Less than 95
  • Water must be available
  • Towels and ice for cooling available
  • Optional water breaks every 30 minutes
  • Water, towels and ice for cooling available
  • Mandatory water breaks every 30 minutes for 10 minute duration
  • Helmets or other protective gear should be removed when not in competition or required by rule
  • Consider postponing practice to later in day
  • Water, towels and ice for cooling available
  • Mandatory water breaks every 30 minutes for 10 minute duration
  • Alter uniforms if permissible by rule, allow changes to dry shirts/shorts
  • Reduce practice time
  • Postpone practices to later in day
  • If protective gear is required by rule, then practice or play must be suspended immediately
Greater than 104
  • Stop all outdoor practice/play activity, and all indoor activity if air conditioning is unavailable


Do you have concerns about your child practicing in the heat?  Are these rules enough?