Taylor Leathers did not push a practice from afternoon to evening due to heat in his first three years as Colbert Heights football coach.
But with temperatures in the 90s and heat indices over 100 expected at the start of this week, he decided over the weekend to move the start of Monday’s and today’s practices to 6 p.m.
Leathers noted his team’s practice field is adjacent to some large trees, so by 6 or 6:30 p.m. the area is shaded. He said he and the other coaches recognize “when you’re out there and the heat index is 105, your kids aren’t there mentally.”
“We really want to maximize what we get out of practice time,” Leathers said. “We’re going to get a whole lot more out of that 90 minutes than we would at 3 (p.m.).”
It was 94 degrees in Florence with a heat index of 104 just after 2:30 p.m. Monday.
A heat advisory was in effect until Monday evening, and an excessive heat warning — the first one the National Weather Service in Huntsville has issued in seven years, according to its Twitter feed — is in effect until 6 p.m. today.
Hot weather in August in Alabama is hardly breaking news, but the kind of heat present Monday throughout the area and expected again today demand a little more caution from local high school football coaches.
Colbert County coach Brett Mask elected to keep Monday’s practice in the afternoon, but he said his players would not lift weights Monday or today because he didn’t want them sweating and tired before they got on the field.
Mask said the biggest drawback to pushing practice into the evening is some players might not have a ride back to school. But he said he’d limit Monday’s practice to 90 minutes and suggested it might not even last that long.
Mask and other coaches are familiar with old-fashioned tactics like withholding water or limiting water breaks, but the dangers of that approach are better recognized these days and you won’t hear today’s coaches advocating for it.
Instead, Mask encourages kids do go to the water station often in between drills.
“Kids are going to perform better if they’re hydrated,” Mask said. “We can build mental toughness other ways.”
Wes Richardson is the head athletic trainer for North Alabama Bone and Joint Clinic and is working with the Florence football team this year.
Florence also decided to keep its practice in the afternoon so players wouldn't have to leave campus and then return, but Richardson said there was a chance Florence's staff would move Tuesday's practice to the evening.
Richardson said this time of year, when it’s especially hot out, each player is weighed after practice and weighed again before the next day’s practice.
If the player has lost more than about 2 percent of his body weight (for example, a 200-pound player showing up lower than 196 the next day), Richardson generally holds him out of practice until he can restore his weight.
He said it’s important for coaches, athletic trainers and players to talk with each other to make sure everyone stays safe. He said Florence coach Will Hester does a good job making sure each assistant watches players closely for signs of heat exhaustion so no one runs the risk of a serious issue like heat stroke. (He said there is a cold water immersion tub that can be used if necessary.)
“One of the main things is communication,” Richardson said.
Mask acknowledged Colbert County is fortunate that it has several assistant coaches who can help make sure everyone is handling the heat well.
The first games are August 22 and 23, so it’s a fair bet the temperature will be hot at 7 p.m. the first few weeks.
“It’s a balancing act because you want these kids exposed to the heat in a safe way,” Richardson said.
The current extreme heat won’t last, but many of the habits to handle it are important for athletes and coaches to remember throughout the year.
Mask spent the fourth period of Monday’s class schedule making two coolers’ worth of Gatorade and said he’s happy to make more if the players need it.
Leathers said he offers each player a Powerade on his way off the practice field in addition to having water available throughout the practice. He reminds players to behave like athletes and wants to see them with Powerades and water bottles in the hallways as they go to class.
“I see ‘em in the hallway with a Mountain Dew, I get on ‘em,” he said.