When Should Coaching Stop In Extreme Heat?
As I write this post, parts of Australia are battling record “heatwave” conditions. In some places, temperatures have nudged 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). All this is happening right in the middle of our summer sports season.
Hot weather is an issue that many sports coaches around the world face annually.
As such, all coaches of outdoor sports played in potentially warm climates should have an action plan to follow when faced with extreme heat. Continuing to coach without modification through hot weather is irresponsible and dangerous. In fact, it’s bad coaching.
Youth sports coaches in particular must take this issue very seriously. This is not only due to the elevated duty of care attached to coaching kids, but also that kids are especially at risk in the heat – something that all coaches of children must be aware.
Prior to puberty, a child’s sweating mechanism, vital for cooling the body, is poorly developed. Also, kids have a smaller surface area to body mass ratio than adults. Their body absorbs heat rapidly and they have less surface area from which to dissipate heat.
Critical to a coach’s hot weather action plan is when to postpone or cancel practise.
When To Stop Coaching
As someone who coaches kids in track & field around Sydney, Australia, I refer to the recommendations contained in the Little Athletics NSW Hot Weather Policy.
The policy states:
If the ambient temperature reaches 38 degrees Celsius in dry heat or 36 degrees Celsius when the weather is humid, activity must be cancelled or ceased until conditions are cooler.
(NOTE: 38 degrees Celsius = 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit; 36 degrees Celsius = 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
For those people who possess the relevant equipment, the policy also features a table that lists ambient temperature and relative humidity combinations that should result in postponement or cancellation. For example an ambient temperature of as low as 26 degrees Celsius, can lead to the stopping of activities if combined with a relative humidity of 94%.
Importantly, the policy also states:
Postponement or cancellation of events may be appropriate even in circumstances falling outside these levels. Little Athletics NSW recognises that heat illness can be a risk at temperature levels below the designated cut-offs and that unusual “heat wave” conditions or variations from the average temperature for the time of year present a greater danger of heat illness.
The message is to never coach in conditions that reach or exceed the recommended cut-off, and always feel free to postpone or cancel prior to the recommended cut-offs if your common sense is telling you this. There is no use waiting until the cut-off is reached if the kids are struggling. Kids sport should never be a grind and this includes having to battle hot weather. It won’t “toughen them up”; it puts them in danger.
Making kids endure hot weather won’t toughen them up; it will put them in danger.
I also suggest cancelling a practise in advance if the weather is forecast to reach, or get close to, the cut-off temperature or a temperature that you believe is too hot for the age and stage of athletes you are looking after.
Never allow the desire to complete a session or make a dollar cloud your judgement. Coaching kids in extreme weather conditions is a sign of poor coaching.
Preparing For Hot Weather
I highly recommend the following:
1. Research your sport’s hot weather policy
If you don’t know already, find out if your sport has a hot weather policy.
2. If your sport has a hot weather policy, get a copy
If a hot weather policy exists for your sport, obtain a copy, familiarise yourself with it and carry a copy when coaching. Refer to it whenever needed.
3. If no hot weather policy exists for your sport, look elsewhere
If your sport does not publish a hot weather policy, find a sport similar to yours that does have a policy or obtain a sport generic policy. In Australia, Sports Medicine Australia provides generic Hot Weather Guidelines.
4. Get a temperature measuring device
Obtain or make sure you can access a reliable temperature measuring device. If possible, get one that can a measure ambient temperature and the relative humidity. Always have it available on hot days.
5. Be proactive on hot days
Be prepared to make a swift and decisive decision. Consider calling off a practise in advance if extreme hot weather is forecast. If the practise gets underway in hot conditions, measure the conditions frequently and compare the results to the policy.
If you postpone or cancel a session based on a formal policy, people may get annoyed but they really can’t criticise you. And remember that you have to use your common sense. You don’t always have to wait until the weather reaches the policy’s recommended cut-off to call off a practise. Never continue to coach past the policy cut-off and use your judgement to call off things earlier if necessary.
Little Athletics NSW Hot Weather Policy
Sports Medicine Australia Hot Weather Policy
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.