As fall sports for youth sports start earlier and earlier (but, that’s a different topic for another day), practices begin in the dog days of summer – early to mid-August.  In the majority of the country, early to mid-August is very hot and very humid.  It is important for children playing sports in August (or July, or June, or any time when a child enters a hot and humid environment) to undergo a process called heat acclimatization.

Heat acclimatization policies were first implemented in 2003 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and first by state high school athletic associations in New Jersey and Texas in 2011.  Currently, 17 state high school athletic associations, the NCAA, and the NFL all have heat acclimatization requirements.  These policies reduce or eliminate heat-related illness or death in athletes.

What is Heat Acclimatization?

According to the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, heat acclimatization is a “broad term that can be loosely defined as a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress over the course of 7 to 14 days…in a natural environment.”

Heat acclimatization is not just for outdoor sports that involved intense or high levels of physical activity.  Sports that come to mind that fit this category include football, soccer, and field hockey.  However, all children participating in sports in a warm environment during summer months should undergo heat acclimatization processes.  This includes indoor sports such as volleyball.  Many gyms are not climate controlled or have air conditioning and without these controls, indoor temperatures and humidity can reach high levels as well.  It is important that all players who participate in sports in a hot environment undergo a heat acclimatization process during the first two weeks of practice. These procedures and policies should be formalized by the league or organization, should be communicated to all coaches, and all coaches must be required to abide by these protocols.  It is important for the health and safety of the children participating.

How to Implement a Heat Acclimatization Policy

Each sport has different and unique energy demands, levels of physical activity, and protective equipment, making creating a universal policy covering all sports difficult to formulate.  The National Athletic Trainers Association recommends a 14-day heat acclimatization process for all athletes in all sports.  In general, this policy gradually introduces athletes to higher levels of physical activity and increase pad or protective equipment use as the two-week period elapses.

The first five days of practice, athletes should not participate in more than one practice per day not exceeding three hours.  During this time, the only protective equipment that should be worn by sports that require it, especially during days 1 and 2, should be helmets.  On days 3 to 5, helmets and shoulder pads may be used, and on day 6, full pads may be used.  In addition, in contact sports, there should be no contact during the first two days, and limited contact with only sleds and tackling dummies in the following three days.

In a memo sent to all state association executive directors, Dr. Michael Foster, Chair of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, recommends strictly adhering to the guidelines published by the NATA and practicing “extra vigilance” in the few days following the two-week acclimatization period.

While the NATA recommends that secondary schools have certified athletic trainers on site during the heat acclimatization period, this is likely unrealistic for youth sports organizations.  However, all coaches should be certified in first aid, CPR, and the use of an AED.

UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute put these guidelines in a handy chart that can be distributed to coaches and league administrators for easy implementation of a heat acclimatization policy.

Heat related illness and deaths in young athletes are preventable by following proper guidelines.


Featured Image: IMG_4575 by Mike Morris   CC BY-SA 2.0