As the summer gets hotter the threat of heat stroke gets more real. Hydration, good nutrition, fitness and cool breaks are critical in the prevention of heat related illness and fatigue in softball. I often saw during tournaments, players sitting in the sun or running around and playing softball in the heat (when I coached minor ball) in between games. I would say to myself…. that is not good.
Playing Softball In The Heat
The body is exerting energy already in a heated condition, adding the sun and then elevating the body temperature while playing taxes the already elevated system that is attempting to maintain homeostasis or balance.
Some conditions that can occur as a result of being in the heat:
- muscle (heat) cramps
- heat exhaustion
- heat stroke
Before the Tournament
The key is prevention. And it starts with being physically fit. By being fit, the body does not have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable level. During the preparation phase is when this training begins and continues through the season with maintenance.
Another prevention tactic occurs actually days before the tournament. Hydrating and good nutrition will play a huge role in ensuring these conditions do not occur. Drink fluids but not in excess prior to the tournament. Over hydrating will not benefit as the body will only use what it needs. Eat fruits and vegetables that contain water such as watermelon, lettuce and cucumber. Have these items at the field as well for the breaks in between games.
At the Field
Put some lemon and maybe some Gatorade powder in the water bottles or in the large water container you might have. Water likes to follow other nutrients into the digestive system so this will work great and it will be more to the athletes taste as well. Attempt to stay away from the sports drinks during games as they contain more sugar and will even cause stomach upset if too much is consumed. They are not required for softball as our issue is heat more so than the depletion of electrolytes that a sport such as cycling or running would result in.
In between games keep the team in the shade as much as possible. quiet relaxed activities will keep them cool with good food that does not take large amounts of energy to digest. Hot dogs and hamburgers from the concession are not a good choice in keeping the energy levels up. Sandwiches or wraps with some protein for breaks up to 2 hours long are perfect because they are filling and will be mostly digested by the time the next game begins. For breaks less than that such as an hour or 45 minutes before having to be back on the field, fruit and vegetables will be a good choice.
Staying cool and minimizing activity between games will maintain good energy levels and prevent fatigue going into the next game. Refrain from conducting a long warm up between games as well to reduce the amount of energy exerted. A light 15 minute warm-up will do wonders in preparing the team for competition after playing already that day. Mental training visualization exercises are also perfect if you feel you need to have more time for warm-up.
Keep cool cloths in the cooler in the dugout for athletes to put on the back of their neck in between innings to keep them cool during games. Keep cold water as discussed previously accessible as well and ensure that athletes take a drink every time they come off the field. Thirst is not an indication of dehydration on its way, it is an indication that it is almost there.
Because catchers where extra equipment and are continuously getting up and down from their position, make sure they take off their chest protector at least in between innings and stay in the cool shade. It doesn’t take long for the heat to become very uncomfortable as many have likely experienced and for the faces to begin to turn red because of the heat. Make sure that if the catcher is on the base path and there are 2 out, get them off the field and into the dugout so that they can rest and be ready for the next defensive inning. If you can, use 2 catchers for the tournament which is a good reason to be sure that you are training all of your catchers adequately during the season.
Players with red hair
Yes this does make a difference. Athletes with red hair often have very fair skin and are more prone to heat stroke as well. People with red hair actually produce more melanin however with that is another chemical which causes skin inflammation which causes their skin to burn quicker than those without red hair. So sunscreen is essential.
The Correct SPF (Sunscreen)
Be sure to put it on before you leave the house. also make sure there is a supply in the first aid kit. If you coach minors, the parents will have most likely made sure their players have sunscreen on but it is always a good idea again to be prepared. Things are very busy during tournaments so it is easy to forget when getting everything ready to leave the house. Add it to your checklist when preparing to warm-up. “Does everyone have their sunscreen on?” A quick question like that will go a long way in preventing sun burn.
If traveling to a location that is warmer than what you are used to, engage in practices of 30-45 minutes a day for a week or 2 prior in hotter than usual conditions as close to the temperature of the location you are going to will begin the acclimatization for the new environment. Discuss with the team the conditions that they will be enduring and what they will be doing to counteract the potential effects.
Stay Cool and have fun
Many cooling breaks during the first game warm up just means getting to the field a bit earlier. Lots of water and god nutrition will go a long way in preventing heat stroke and other conditions. Some signs to look for include:
- complaining of the heat
- sweating more than usual
Preparation and prevention are the key when playing in the heat. Plan it out and carry out the plan.
Stay safe and have fun.