While it may seem like summer just started, football programs at all levels are kicking off their fall seasons over the next few weeks. This means that many practices and training camps will be occurring during the warmest time of the year in the U.S. – the first few weeks of August. And, that makes taking heat safety seriously and understanding the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) a priority for coaches, athletic directors, athletic trainers and officials.
Heavy exercise during these times can have potentially fatal results. In fact, more than 600 people are killed in the United States every year from heat-related illnesses, some of which are athletes suffering from heat stroke or exhaustion.
The main concern with heat is that it pushes the human body beyond its limits. When extreme heat combines with high humidity, it becomes a potentially lethal situation. Athletes often succumb to heat-related illnesses because evaporation is slowed down and the body has to work harder to maintain a normal temperature. This is especially true for football players because of the protective pads that they wear. These pads trap heat near the body and can increase the chances of suffering a heat-related illness.
Coaches, athletic trainers and game officials need to be mindful of the weather conditions to protect their players and keep them performing at their best. There are two primary things that can help them be successful at this: education and access to accurate and precise tools to measure weather conditions.
Specific training and education about the effects of heat on athletes needs to be provided to coaches, trainers and officials. This will allow them to closely monitor their players on the field and know the immediate warning signs if one of them is experiencing heat stress or exhaustion. Coaches and officials also need to be educated on policies and procedures put in play by the hosting athletic organization in regards to heat. This is usually outlined in a heat safety plan.
In addition to education about warning signs, policies and procedures, coaches and officials also need to have access to reliable weather monitoring tools. One of the most important pieces of information they need to have access to is the WBGT forecast, which incorporates measurements in temperature, relative humidity, wind, cloud cover and sun angle. There are specific guidelines for various temperatures measured by the WBGT that include time, duration and breaks for certain physical activity.
For example, if a WBGT above 82.0 degrees means that caution needs to be exercised such as longer and more frequent breaks during heavy physical exercise. This might mean that intense drills might be limited to 10 minutes followed by a three minute break for players to hydrate and cool down.
Access to the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) can be given to a coach or official through a mobile or web-based platform, such as the WeatherSentry Sports Edition. These tools are innovative and provide an ease of use that will help coaches keep their players safe in practice and under the Friday night lights.