By Hugh Wyatt

*********** It's that time of the year again...

Time for those "Football Player Dies" headlines to start appearing. They don't have to!

Time for all of us coaches to realize that many of those "football deaths" headlines that terrify moms and keep them from letting their kids play football are caused by heat.

And yet, despite all that we have learned, every year, in the beginning of the season, there are coaches who still think it's sound coaching to "separate the sheep from the goats" - to put poorly-conditioned kids through death-defying drills, pushing them to the point of exhaustion in heat and humidity that could kill even a well-conditioned man.

From the 1930s to the mid-1970s an average of four football players used to die every year from heat stroke. Since the mid-70's, though, that number has been cut in half, thanks largely to three basic changes in coaching: a liberal approach to the use of fluids during practice; more frequent rest breaks; and more sensible practices on hot, humid days.

Nevertheless, every year we still read about those one or two kids whose deaths might possibly have been prevented.

Protect your kids , protect yourself, and protect our game!

First of all, coaches must allow their players to gradually acclimate themselves to the heat. The body's sweat glands will become more efficient as the body becomes more used to the heat, but this takes time, and they are not prepared to work properly if a kid is not in shape. It is insanity to run "Burma Road" drills on the first day, before you have even had a chance to assess your kids' condition. It is sadistic any time to try to test your kids' courage or endurance by pushing them to the limit in hot, humid conditions.

In hot weather, kids need frequent breaks. Get them out from under the hot sun and in a shady place. Have them take their helmets off. If they have shoulder pads on, make them remove them and the tee-shirts under them. Expose as much skin surface as possible.

Second of all, it is essential to give kids frequent water breaks, and allow them all the water they can drink. As a general rule, all the water they can drink, every half hour or less. (Actually, mere quenching of the thirst doesn't totally satisfy the body's requirements for fluids.)

There are two factors that coaches need to bear in mind:

First, it normally takes 24 hours for the body to fully replenish its water stores after a day of heavy sweating. Therefore, day after day of repeated heavy sweating, rather than "getting the player in shape," actually aggravates matters and requires even more fluid intake.

Second, competitive athletes tend to be the sort of people who push themselves, sometimes beyond the point of safety.

A coach needs to do more than just explain the risk of heat stroke to his athletes. Whenever the weather is hot, parents and coaches must insist that players be alert for symptoms &emdash; such as loss of coordination, weakness, large weight loss &emdash; and bring them to the attention of the coach or another adult.

And, realizing that extremely competitive kids, mentally conditioned to "play hurt", are often reluctant to take themselves out of action, coaches can't simply look the other way and accept a player's word that he's okay, when symptoms indicate otherwise.

Big, heavy kids especially bear watching in hot weather because they tend to tire fastest anyhow, and when they begin to appear to struggle, it is easy for coaches to jump to the conclusion that they are just out of shape, rather than in danger.

At all times, coaches must be careful not to imply by anything they say or do that there is any stigma attached to dropping out of drills because of heat concerns. They must avoid ridiculing or belittling players who appear to be affected by the heat.

At the slightest suspicion of illness due to heat, physicians insist that the coach take immediate action: Get the player out of the sun, remove his clothing, cool the skin and call for emergency help.

From the Warren Clinic of Northeast Oklahoma:

Sweat acts like our natural air conditioner. As sweat evaporates from our skin, it cools us off. Our personal cooling system can fail, though, if we overexert ourselves on hot and humid days. This can result in heat exhaustion or a heat stroke, which is life-threatening.

Heat exhaustion takes time to develop. Fluids and salt are vital for health. They are lost as children and adults sweat a lot during exercise or other strenuous activities. It is very important to drink lots of non-alcoholic liquids before, during and after exercise in hot weather. As strange as it seems, people suffering from heat exhaustion have low, normal or only slightly elevated body temperatures.

Signs and Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

Cool, clammy, pale skin... Sweating... Dry mouth... Fatigue, weakness... Dizziness... Headache... Nausea, sometimes vomiting... Muscle cramps... Weak and rapid pulse

FIRST AID: (While awaiting emergency care)

Move to a cool place indoors or in the shade... Loosen clothing... Take fluids such as cool or cold water. If available, add one half teaspoon of salt to a quart of water and sip it or drink sport drinks... Have salty foods such as saltine crackers, if tolerated.... Lie down in a cool, breezy place.

Heat stroke, unlike heat exhaustion, strikes suddenly, with little warning. When the body's cooling system fails, the body's temperature rises fast. This creates an emergency condition.

Signs of heat stroke include:

Very high temperature (104 degrees F or higher)... Hot, dry, red skin... No sweating... Deep breathing and fast pulse - then shallow breathing and weak pulse... Dilated (unusually wide) pupils... Confusion, delirium, hallucinations... Convulsions... Loss of consciousness

Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, use of alcohol, and vomiting or diarrhea can put children and adults at risk for heat stroke during very hot weather. Heat stroke in children is not only due to high temperatures and humidity, but also to not drinking enough fluids.

FIRST AID: (While awaiting emergency care)

Do CPR if the person is not breathing and has no pulse.... Do rescue breathing if the person is not breathing, but does have a pulse.

Until emergency care arrives, it is important to lower the body temperature. To do this:

- Move the person to a cool place indoors or under a shady tree. Place the feet higher than the head.

- Remove the clothing and either wrap the person in a cold, wet sheet, sponge the person with towels or sheets that are soaked in cold water or spray the person with cool water. Fan the person. If using an electric fan, use caution. Make sure your hands are dry when you plug the fan in and turn it on. Keep the person with wet items far enough away from the fan so as not to cause electric shock.

- Put ice packs or cold compresses on the neck, under the armpits and on the groin area.

- Immerse a child in cold water if he or she is unconscious.