Summer is a great time for young athletes to hone their skills at a variety of sports camps. The camaraderie and exercise can be fun and teach valuable life lessons. The summer sun and heat, however, can make children susceptible to health concerns such as dehydration, sunstroke and heatstroke.
During an interview on RadioMD, Dr. Michael F. Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute, shared some precautionary steps parents can take to protect their children when engaged in summer sports camps.
Allow time for the body to get acclimated
According to Bergeron, the best defense against heat-related illnesses is to allow the body to gradually get used to the heat.
“Being able to tolerate high temperatures significantly reduces the risk of heat-related illness,” said Bergeron. “The biggest problem athletes face is getting out in the weather too quickly and then doing too much without being acclimated to the weather conditions.”
One to two weeks before children attend a summer sports camp they should gradually increase the duration and intensity of their outdoor exercise or activity. This is especially important for children and teens who may be out of shape and who have not played any sport for a while.
Drink plenty of fluids
Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to help prevent heat-related illness, yet young athletes still need frequent reminders to drink up. Parents should make sure unlimited amounts of water are available for their children for the duration of the sports camp, in addition to making certain their children drink plenty of water before and after the camp activities as well.
“Children should drink before, during and after physical activity so they stay hydrated enough to maintain an adequate body temperature,” said Bergeron. Even if children are reluctant to do so because it means having to leave camp for bathroom breaks, parents should emphasize to them that dehydration can result in severe consequences.
Watch for danger signs and take time to cool down
Anticipating and recognizing the onset of a heat-related illness is critical in preventing a dangerous outcome. While the signs and symptoms are generally nonspecific – disorientation, dizziness, weakness, headache and vomiting – careful observation of behavior will help minimize risk. If your child is not behaving typically and the weather makes heat a concern, parents should investigate. Parents know their children best and can recognize when something is not quite right.
“If the child is wearing heavy equipment, such as a helmet, shin guards or other protective gear, have them remove it, give them some water and insist on some time to cool down,” Bergeron advised.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends the following safety tips for athletes engaged in summer sports:
Have sports drinks on hand for workout sessions lasting longer than an hour.
Keep beverages cold – cold beverages are consumed 50 percent more than warm beverages.
Hydrate before, during and after activity.
Remove unnecessary equipment, such as helmets and padding, when environmental conditions become extreme.
Clothing should be light-colored and lightweight.