While we have stepped into the month of October, the daily temperatures are more reminiscent of the heights of summer. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Ted Gailbraith, the Lovett Athletic Direction, about some of his concerns about summer sports safety. “There are a lot,” he said, “and they’re sort of sports specific, but the biggest concern for us, right now in Georgia, is related to heat and humidity.”
He explained that Lovett religiously follows a set of guidelines that are put out by the Georgia State Athletic Association and the Georgia High School Athletic Association. For example, one of the rules mandates that the coaches use a piece of equipment called a wet bulb which gives them a reading of the actual temperature, “feel” temperature and humidity levels. This device is used by coaches to determine the details of practices, such as the maximum time students can be working out for, the minimum number of scheduled water breaks, and regulations regarding team uniforms.
Mr. Gailbraith gave an example of how at one of the football practices, “the team had to practice in just helmets and shoulder pads and couldn’t wear full gear based on that wet-bulb reading.”
Aside from state rules, he says that “where we really go above and beyond is in making sure that kids have enough water, shade and cooling devices where we can.” For example, on a really hot day, he explained how coaches would put up tents, stands and misters on the sidelines of fields.
Ultimately, he says, “We are letter of the law in terms of policies and above and beyond in terms of making accommodations when the weather's hot.”
I asked Maura McBreen, a Lovett softball player, how she and her team are affected by the heat. She said that all the gear that softball players wear can prove to be a challenge during these summer months. But she said she isn’t too bothered by it. “I’ve been playing my whole life so I’m used to it,” she said,
Cristina Hill, captain of the Lovett volleyball team, explained how their conditioning session was held outside for the first time. She said that it was so hot and they had to sprint 1500 yards in sections, and then resume regular practice back in the gym. She said everybody felt sick by the time it was over and one person even fainted.
One of the most challenging sports to practice in this heat is cross country. “Running can be really dangerous in the heat cause people are pushing themselves to their limits,” said Carter Eckhardt, a sophomore. Similarly to what happened with volleyball conditioning, she said that “it’s normal to throw up when it's hot outside at the end of a meet. A lot of people over the summer had to stop [running] cause they felt dizzy or lightheaded, and some people passed out.” Still, she said that the coaches try their best to combat this challenge. When the weather is above 96 degrees, a water break every thirty minutes is required, the team does ice baths after longer runs, and coaches tell them to pay attention to how they’re feeling and run however hard based on that.
Heat concerns aside, it’s important for athletes to take precautions to avoid any other injuries that could happen regardless of the time of year.
For volleyball specifically, Cristina said that the most common injury that you can get is a twisted or broken ankle from stepping on volleyballs rolling around on the ground. Pulling muscles while playing is also common. In order to prevent that, she said it’s important for people to be “shagging (picking up) the balls at all times, and just being aware of your surroundings.” She explained how serious volleyball injuries can be, saying that people are usually out one to two months with injuries. “And that’s with six weeks in a cast,” she said.
With regards to softball, Maura explained that the most common injuries are small bruises from getting hit, or concussions. However, in contrast to volleyball, Maura said that last year she twisted her ankle, but wasn’t out at all. But, she said, “if you break something you’d obviously be out a lot longer.” She said shoulder injuries are by far the worst and that if you need to get surgery you could be out for months.
In terms of protocol if someone gets injured, Mr. Gailbraith said that depending on the severity you might need to see a doctor. “There are some injuries that the trainers feel very comfortable managing, but if they feel that the injury is severe enough that you need to see a doctor, you can’t participate again [in your sport] until you have that doctor’s clearance note,” he explained.
“Even with a note, the trainers will still want to see how they’re moving and what their mechanics are like before they’re comfortable letting them on the field,” he added.
In his opinion, prevention is the most important thing one can do related to injuries. He said that “our preventative stuff is developed in the weight room, and the recupertive, rehabilitive stuff is in the training room.”
He said that the strength and conditioning staff plays a large role in prevention, and they work on strengthening the body parts most prone to injury depending on the sport. For example, he explained how the girl’s soccer team has a terrible rate of ACL injuries. “For whatever reason, girl soccer players blow out their knees at a rate that’s disproportionate to every other sport,” he said. So, the coach’s off season plan is focused on developing strength and durabilty in the legs to strengthen the girls’ ACLs in preparation for soccer season.
“Everything that we’re doing is to prepare athletes to compete at a high level,” Mr. Gailbraith said. From staying safe amidst high temperatures to avoiding muscle pulls, Lovett puts a lot of time and effort into keeping the health and wellness of athletes in mind.