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Publish date: Aug 19, 2011

More than a cool drink of water

UIndy shows how football teams stay safe and beat the heat

By Greg Johnson 
NCAA.org

All around the country, NCAA football teams are finding ways to battle the heat while preparing for the 2011 season.

Among them is Division II’s University of Indianapolis, which conducted its first two-a-day football practice session on Tuesday. Like all NCAA football teams, the Greyhounds went through a mandatory five-day acclimatization period before putting on their full complement of pads.

The players endured scorching heat over the summer as they did offseason workouts to prepare for the 2011 season. When they reported to camp, they were each given a 24-ounce water bottle.

“We have them carry it around to meals and meetings,” said Indianapolis head coach Bob Bartolomeo. “They fill those water bottles up constantly. Hydration is so big in terms of fighting the heat, and we make a big emphasis on that.”

Bartolomeo (pronounced Bar-to-loh-mayo) also credits the school’s Head Athletic Trainer Ned Shannon for continually emphasizing the importance of keeping fluids in their system.

Head Athletic Trainer Ned Shannon educates the student-athletes about hydration and nutrition at the beginning of camp.

“We try to set guidelines for our athletes when they come into camp,” Shannon said. “We ask them to sip from that water bottle frequently through the day. We don’t want them to pound the water down, but to take it in at a slower rate.”

Senior quarterback Rob Doyle said he and the rest of his teammates closely follow the recommendations from the athletic training staff and coaches.

“They keep big coolers filled with water and sports drinks outside the locker room at all times,” Doyle said. “Whenever we go into meetings, we have a break to go fill up our water bottles.”

During practice, the Greyhounds have water pumps situated around the field. 

“We are allowed to go get a drink of water anytime we feel the need,” Doyle added.

Before their morning practice on this day, the players are given a snack. After the workout, which ended around 9:30 a.m., the Greyhounds went to the cafeteria to have breakfast together. They also have lunch and dinner together, and each player is required to sign in at each meal.

NCAA preseason practice rules

To help the student-athletes adapt to the hot environment most of them will endure in August, preseason football practices begin with a five-day acclimatization period. That rule went into effect in May 2003 for the safety of the players, who all are required to have a physical examination before they can take the field for workouts.

  • During the five-day acclimatization period, players can be on the field only for one practice a day. That practice is limited to a maximum of three hours.
  • Helmets are the only piece of protective equipment student-athletes may wear in the first two days of practice.
  • During the third and fourth days of the acclimatization period, helmets and shoulder pads may be worn.
  • During the final day of the five-day period, players can practice in full pads.

After the five-day period, teams can continue to practice in full pads. However, a team may not conduct multiple on-field practice sessions on consecutive days.

Again, student-athletes will not engage in more than three hours of on-field practice activities on those days during which one practice is permitted.

On days when teams conduct more than one practice, players shall not engage in more than five hours of on-field practice activities.

Also, on days that teams conduct multiple practice sessions, student-athletes must be provided with at least three continuous hours of recovery time between the end of the first practice and the start of the last practice that day.

Schools around the country also received fact sheets and posters from the NCAA national office, which educates student-athletes about how to assess their hydration status. One fact sheet shows how athletes can tell their state of hydration by monitoring the color of the urine.

A lighter color shows that that person is properly hydrated; darker urine is a sign of dehydration.

Posters were also mailed to schools advising collegiate athletes to know the signs of an exertional heat injury. The signs are muscle cramping; decreased performance; unsteadiness; confusion; vomiting; irritability; pale or flushed skin; and a rapid, weak pulse.

Athletes are also urged to report symptoms such as high body temperature, nausea, headache, dizziness, unusual fatigue, a stop in sweating, disturbances of vision and fainting to the athletic trainer or a physician immediately.

Players must also weigh in before practice, and weigh out after practice to see if they lost any weight during a workout. In general, Shannon likes the Greyhounds to drink a pound of water for every pound they lose.  

In between practices, the players try to stay out of the sun as much as possible.

“I went back to the house and stayed off my feet,” said junior left tackle Andrew Mansaray. “I watched some news and SportsCenter. All the time I made sure I stayed hydrated.”

The evening practice began at 4:45 p.m., and the Greyhounds knew they caught a break. The temperature was around 84 degrees, and the humidity was relatively low for an August day in Indianapolis. Still, it wasn’t exactly comfortable in full gear going through a strenuous practice.

But the conditions were much better than in the month leading up to preseason practice, when the heat index regularly was in triple digits.

“Even a week before camp, most of the days were scorchers,” Doyle said. “We haven’t had any cramping or hydration problems.”

Shannon said he has taped urine-color fact sheets in the restrooms of the locker rooms to reinforce the importance of monitoring hydration issues.

He also believes the NCAA’s required five-day acclimatization period is great in helping players avoid heat-stress situations.

“Whether it is a football student-athlete, a tennis player or a soccer player, the body has to adapt to its environment,” said Shannon, who has been at Indianapolis since 1993. “When an athlete has that acclimatization, they are able to deal with the heat that is built up in the body during activity better than the athlete who’s not “

He added that athletes are less likely to become injured if they are functioning at a high level.

Shannon and the coaches keep watch for signs that one of the players may be struggling with the heat.

“If you see someone lagging behind in a running drill, or lagging behind in a drill that has a lot of repetition, we need to take a look at him,” Shannon said.

After practice, many of the players made a bee line to the eight cold tubs that sit next to the home stands in the Greyhounds football stadium. On average, a player usually sits in the cold tub about 10 minutes to recover from the workout.

The UIndy athletic training staff prepares ice baths for the players to cool down and recover in after practice.

“We’ll dump 25 to 30 pounds of ice in each one of those to help cool them down,” Shannon said. “At the same time, it refreshes their lower extremities. We drain the tubs every day and put fresh water in them. We also put some alcohol to disinfect them.”

Overall, Shannon is pleased that the players are paying attention to what he stresses about hydration. He believes they have bought into the philosophy of paying attention to what their bodies are telling them.

“The players today are really educated,” Shannon said. “They can go online and look things up. Recovery is more than resting and eating a meal. It is rehydrating, stretching, and doing cold baths. Those kinds of things speed up the recovery, so that when you step on the field, you are recharged as you possibly can be.”