(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- One by one after their group completed their run-through, it didn't take long for members of the Sikeston football team to find the nearest watering hole.
"We let the kids get all the water they want," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "As long as they hustle on and off the field, they get all of it they want."
Giving athletes every opportunity for a water break is just one of the many things that Sikeston athletics are doing to try and beat the extreme heat as sports such as football and soccer try and gear up for the upcoming fall season.
"We drink a lot of water," recently appointed head soccer coach Doyle Noe said, "lots of water. We try and watch the kids even closer than you would normally."
With temperatures soaring upwards towards the high 90s as the first week of fall sports practice begins, dehydration, cramps and all-around fatigue are specific symptoms that may lead to more serious conditions, which is monitored closely by those directly involved.
Laura Dennis, MS, ATC, who provides athletic training services for all Sikeston school athletes through ReStart's Sports Medicine Outreach Program, is one of those monitors.
"The biggest thing is to just play it smart," said Dennis. "We tell the kids to listen to their bodies. They know their body better than anyone so, we just encourage them to talk to us."
One of the precautions taken by Dennis, as well as all coaches, is to make sure all athletes know how and when to hydrate themselves, which is the number one rule in practicing in the heat.
"We emphasize hydrating before practice and really push beverages with electrolytes and carbohydrates," said Dennis. "We encourage lots of water and gatorade after practice. For every pound they lose during practice, which is pure water weight, they need to drink eight ounces of water or gatorade, preferably more than that, to replenish their sweat loss."
With any type of practice, sweating is found pretty much anywhere and is a good indicator as to which athlete maybe needs to take a breather. Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell which kids are sweating more, especially with helmets and shoulder pads on.
"A sign of over-heating is perfuse sweating, but with these kids and the gear that they wear, that's every kid out there," Dennis said. "You really have to be more tuned to how they're walking, if their focused or if they have headaches. Cramping typically comes first so we've been watching for that."
One of the ways coaches try and stay out of the heat is to avoid the hottest parts of the day. They try and work on the more demanding drills, such as conditioning, in the earlier parts of the day and stick to the more fundamental drills later.
"Especially with two-a-days, you have to figure out the schedule," Noe said. "We try to go at it a little earlier and a bit later in the afternoon to try and beat the hotter parts of the day. We try to lay off a bit on the conditioning, which you hate to do, but we get that out of the way earlier in the day."
"You have to adjust by it," said Gibbs. "Based on what we were planning to do, we might cut the time down a bit based on the temperature. We work on more fundamental or technical things when it's real hot just to be safe and make sure the kids are okay."
The highs in the Sikeston area have not been below 90 degrees since July 27 and the temperature has reached at least 100 degrees three times since then. Add the breath-taking humidity and it becomes that much more hot.
"We've had some cramping and some feeling light-headed, especially when they do their conditioning, but the coaches are great about knowing when they can push them and when they need to hold back," Dennis said. "No one is told to 'suck it up and keep going,' if we need to hold them out, we hold them out."
Most of the time, using your best judgement in cases where extreme heat comes in to play is the best way to go about keeping kids safe on the field. Which is where every coach wants to keep his players.
"The biggest thing is to just watch the kids and make sure they get enough water," said Gibbs. "If they tell us that they are fading or a little dizzy, they go out right away. You've got to be smart about it."
"Hopefully, it cools off eventually and you can get back to your regular way of doing things," said Noe. "Unfortunately, right now, that's not the case."