Summer Leagues – How to Stay Cool and Avoid Heatstroke While Excelling at Sports

It’s that time of year, the temperatures are rising and summer sport camps and leagues are well underway. An important factor in how your summer season goes is how well you handle the weather – mainly the sun and heat. Playing in high temperatures under a blazing sun can lead to issues from the common annoying sunburn to the much more serious dangers of heatstroke, but if you prepare well and listen to your body, you can excel even in the height of the summer. Here are a few tips to keep you cool without keeping you on the bench.

Let’s start out with the extremely obvious: the best way to avoid overheating is to stay where the temperatures are lower, like a lovely air-conditioned room, or in the shade. What this means for athletes is that whenever possible, between practices or breaks during play, try to get out of the sun. As lovely as that blazing orb in the sky is, being in the sun can sap your strength, overheat your body and make you tired. Coaches, make sure that your athletes have a cool place to rest whenever possible. In sports where substitutions are possible during games, switch players in and out often so athletes have a chance to get hydrated and avoid overheating.

Possibly the most important thing to do in summer sports is to stay hydrated. Here’s one bit of wisdom: don’t just drink water when you’re thirsty. If you’re thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated. So instead of playing for an hour, then guzzling a bottle of water, stay consistently hydrated throughout the day with frequent, small drinks. On the subject of what to drink: water is obviously an excellent way to stay hydrated, but when exercise lasts 60 minutes or more, I also suggest drinking liquids that have added electrolytes, like sport drinks (though try to avoid the ones with high sugar content.) Your body loses a lot of electrolytes during strenuous activity and in the heat, so the electrolytes and added carbohydrates in sports drinks can help keep you charged up over long periods of play.

Here’s another easy way to handle the sun and heat: wear sunscreen! In addition to protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, preventing sunburns also prevents fatigue. A sunburn will tire you out very quickly as your body spends a whole lot of extra energy repairing damaged skin cells, so unless you plan to spend your afternoons napping, I suggest some smart application of SPF 45. Much like hydration, apply early and often.

Now that the three most obvious and important tips are out of the way, here are some tricks to stay cool that I picked up throughout my years in sports.

Wear a hat if you can. It protects your skin from the sun and keeps your eyes free to focus on the game. My personal favorite hat is the headsweat, which is made from a breathable material and has a band lining that keeps sweat out of your eyes. I also liked soaking my hat in water every so often, as the evaporating liquid made my head feel much cooler. (Although I don’t think this lowers your core body temp at all, but it sure feels nice.)

Wear light, loose fitting clothes. Light is best both in a weight sense and in a color sense. White clothing reflects light, where black clothing absorbs it and makes you hotter. Loose fit lets your body breathe and cool itself off.

You can also try occasionally putting water on areas of your skin where arteries are close to the surface, like the insides of your wrists, and the sides of your neck. The evaporating water cools your skin down, and the idea seems to be that if you cool the areas around those main arteries, it will help cool your whole body. (I’m not sure how scientific this one is, but it seems logical enough.)

All these steps – hydrating, resting in the shade, sunscreen, and the type of clothing you wear – can help you perform at your best during whatever summer sport you participate in.

Even with these precautions, though, sometimes the heat is just more than our bodies can handle. In those cases, be careful, be aware, and when necessary, seek medical attention. Watch out for signs that can lead to heatstroke such as headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, and uncharacteristic weakness or fatigue. If you start feeling any of these symptoms, let your coach know and get out of the sun, rest, and stay hydrated.

Some signs of an actual heat stroke are the absence of sweating, with hot, dry, flushed or red skin, high body temp and a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, confusion, disorientation, and agitation. Keep in mind that heat stroke is a medical emergency, so if these symptoms are present, get medical attention immediately.

With that caution, just stay smart, keep cool and listen to your body, and you will excel at your sport in the summer months!

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