For millions upon millions of children and teenagers across the country, the summer is hardly a vacation. Baseball diamonds call for them, and summer practices begin for high school football players everywhere. Being prepared on the gridiron in the fall means putting in hard work while your classmates relax at the beach.
It is in these times on the diamond and the practice field that players give their maximum effort. Maximum effort should never cost you your life. Sports are not worth dying for. Yet every year, we get reports of players succumbing to heat stroke and dehydration.
It is not hard to see what happens. Players get up early in the morning, practice till lunch, then practice till the sun goes down. Wearing ten to fifteen pounds of gear, always moving at full speed, never taking a play off, or be perceived as weak. This is your starting job on the line, you cannot afford to give anything less than full effort.
Then what happens? You get dizzy, nauseated, a massive headache. Body collapses, overheats, and suddenly you are either en route to a hospital or worse.
Schools have tried to curb the tide of heat-related deaths. Mandatory water breaks, advanced methods of tracking player temperature, refusing to permit coaches to do two-a-day practices on days where the heat index is over 100. However, for coaches in pursuit of championship glory, and players in pursuit of a starting position and the popularity and acclaim that entails, rules sometimes get avoided.
No coach on this planet will openly admit to this. To do so would be career suicide. Lawsuits are one thing, being accused of child abuse brings on an entirely different and more powerful stigma. But the rules do get avoided. To say they do not would be naïve. For some coaches, gaining an advantage on the competition is worth the risks of getting fired. These coaches are almost always former players themselves. They went through these practices, and they survived.
Just because you survived, does not mean everyone will, or everyone does. The tragic thing is that these deaths can be prevented.
The biggest matter is to remove the conception that resting is weakness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your body cool down and getting some water. Hydration is a hundred times more important on a practice field than anything else. That starting position will not matter in the slightest if you are not alive to man it.
For coaches, there is no championship worth a player’s… a student’s… a child’s life. Ensuring that practices allow for proper rest and hydration does not make the team weaker.
For many coaches, these words will fall on deaf ears; this text will be avoided by blind eyes. When one of their players dies, their statements of “we do not know why this happened” will also fall on deaf ears, and the banners you raised in your time will not matter anymore.