Prep football teams adjusting practice routines for the heat - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Prep football teams adjusting practice routines for the heat

August 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Prep football teams adjusting practice routines for the heat
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira, Sports Editor


Arizonans are accustomed to extreme summer heat, but even so, the conditions take a toll on daily outdoor activities.

That is the case for high school football programs across Chandler, which were forced to modify practice schedules when preseason camps opened late last month.

“We recommend splitting the time up, going indoors to get out of the heat,” said David Hines, executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. “There’s a lot of stretching, formations and other things you can do indoors to cool down and get out of the heat.”

The AIA has implemented guidelines to aid athletes in acclimating to the heat during preseason practices

In a new protocol for 2018, football players are required to wear no more than shorts, shirts and helmets the first three days of practice in the climate where they play their home games, followed by three more days adding only shoulder pads before being allowed to practice in full pads.

East Valley teams that had preseason camps in cooler climates to escape the heat, therefore, were required to start the protocol over when they returned to the desert.

The AIA continues to do research to refine its protocol for football practices in the desert’s dry heat. Most protocols around the country are based on places where humidity is more of a factor.

Alongside trainers across the southwestern part of the United States, the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee is researching dry temperatures using the heat index – calculated using outside temperature and humidity.

While some Arizona school districts have established their own guidelines regarding football practices, Hines hopes to establish a specific baseline for schools in different regions of the state to follow.

“The concern is dry temperatures. There isn’t a lot of research done about them,” Hines said. “It’s important to give kids a break and to take it easy.

“It’s going to be hot.”

For now, Hines is calling upon East Valley schools to make the right call to keep athletes safe.

Monitoring conditions has become a daily task for Lance Michel, head athletic trainer at Hamilton High in Chandler.

Once Michel identifies whether the Huskies can practice outside, he and his training staff jump into action with precautions to keep the athletes safe.

“When they don’t have to have contact, the helmets are off,” Michel said. “We continue to push fluid through them, get them ice buckets, just make sure they stay cool.”

One Hamilton practice was cut short by about 30 minutes to get athletes out of that day’s record-tying heat.

Fluids and ice baths are present at all times on the Huskies’ practice field, with Michel keeping a watchful eye on athletes for signs of heat-related symptoms.

“It’s all about watching the athletes,” he said. “It may not even be the hottest day. It’s kind of an accumulative affect. Within a week or two you’re going to be sluggish and sweating like crazy. We hit them with water 24-7.”

A similar strategy has been implemented at Perry High.

Despite sun bearing down on them, Perry coach Preston Jones and the rest of the team manage to maintain high energy throughout the sessions.

“I think the key is preparation,” Jones said. “So many people want to try to hydrate at practice, but we always tell our kids to hydrate 24 to 48 hours ahead of time. We require them to carry gallon jugs with them. We have done that forever.”

Drinking at least a gallon of water before practice, Jones says, helps keep body temperatures down while on the field.

Jones said the biggest hydration issue is on Mondays, when kids generally did not drink as much water over the weekend. Jones is aware that cramping muscles or even heat illnesses are more common when practices resume at the beginning of the week.

The Pumas make water available at all times, never restricting a player – even if it is during a drill.

“We’ve never been restricted on what we do, and our philosophy and rules have always been the same: Kids can get water any time they want,” Jones said. “They can stop drills and go over and get water. We don’t ever hold that from them.”

The coaching staff at Perry knows the heat can take a mental toll on players, as well.

Building mental toughness is key in the first few days of practice, especially without the ability to use padding other than helmets.

But while their goal as a staff is to prepare their players for anything – including the weather – they still are aware of the dangers of Arizona’s intense summer heat.

“You want to err on the side of caution,” Jones said. “You want to build mental toughness, but at the end of the day, you want these kids to be safe. That’s most important.”

For Highland High, practices are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Morning practices, however, have their own difficulty for other reasons.

“The hardest part of morning practice is getting them up out of bed,” Highland coach Brock Farrel said. “But I think they would rather get up in the morning than practice in the afternoon with the sun beating down on them.”

Humidity also tends to be higher early.

Farrel uses the first week of practice to work on special teams and conditioning, allowing the players to become acclimated to the heat.

With school back in session, Farrel said, practices have been moved to the afternoon. The Hawks do not take the field immediately after the final bell at about 2:30 p.m.

“We normally watch film as a team until roughly 3:45 p.m., so no matter how hot it is we don’t start practice until 4 p.m. anyway,” Farrel said. “We will adjust practice so we don’t do anything that requires contact until later. We can get in more than half of practice without putting pads on and still get a lot of work done.”

In his second year leading the Highland program, Farrel hasn’t yet been forced to cancel a practice due to heat. And the same goes for his three years leading Shadow Mountain in Phoenix.

He and his coaching staff have implemented measures to ensure the safety of the players, including decreasing time on each drill.

Farrel has a plan in place if temperatures reach dangerous levels for athletes even without pads on.

“We haven’t had to go into the gym yet, but I’m always open to that,” Farrel said. “If we get the first hour in without pads, now it will be 5 p.m. It is still hot, but it doesn’t feel like the sun is beating down on you.”

Photos by Kimberly Carrillo/Staff Photographer

Gilbert Highland quarterback Kaleb Herbert, a senior, gets plenty of water while practicing in record heat late last month when high school football preseason camps opened.