Water most important training tool as athletes take to practice fields Freshman Coyote football player Clayton Bryan of White River, takes a refreshing drink of water during practice Tuesday morning. Both Coyote and Tanager football players are taught the importance of fluids when practicing in extremely hot and humid conditions. by M. Jill Karolevitz Often depicted in movies as a non-athlete with less-than-average intelligence, a water boy may now be termed as the most important component of a football team as players begin practicing in extreme heat and humidity.
With the recent tragic deaths of Florida freshman running back Eraste Autin from heat stroke after a voluntary workout, and Minnesota Vikings' lineman Korey Stringer, also from heat stroke after an intense practice at the Vikings' training camp in Mankato on the hottest day of the year, local coaches are sticking with a regimen they've followed for years.
"Water, water, water," said Vermillion High School football coach Gary Culver. "You can't get enough of it. You have to coach the kids about football, but you also have to educate them about hydrating themselves before, during and after practices and games."
The VHS football squad began practice on Thursday, Aug. 9.
"This is my 25th year of coaching and I'd like to think I have a pretty good hold on this," Culver said. "It isn't like this is the first time we've had to practice in this type of heat."
He outlined the safety precautions he's used throughout his tenure as the players take to their pre-season drills.
Practice sessions are held twice a day until school starts. They run from 7:30 to 9 a.m., then 10 a.m. to noon.
"With this weather, the heat has really cranked up by noon," Culver said. "We stay away from that hot period of the day � from 12 to 8 it's usually just brutal � and the coaches, players and trainers really seem to like that schedule."
The VHS football team has a trainer available on the practice field as well.
"He handles all the injury evaluations, which could be anything from a sprained ankle to heat exhaustion," Culver said. "We do pretty well in being able to spot kids that may be in trouble."
Unlimited water is probably the most important factor in football practice, Culver added.
"No one is ever denied water at any time," he said. "And we take at least four breaks during practice.
"I'm not that sold on Gatorade before or during a game � it may be okay afterwards to replenish potassium and salts � but there's nothing better than cold water and lots of it," he added.
Culver encourages his players to stay conditioned during the summer, but the first practices are also geared for working the players into shape a little at a time.
"We start the first three days without pads, which helps acclimate them," Culver said.
Looking back, Culver said he learned his lesson the hard way about about keeping the kids hydrated.
"When the DakotaDome first opened in 1979, our first game in there I had five kids sent to the hospital," he said. "They were dehydrated. We weren't prepared for those conditions."
Since then, the VHS football squad has not had that problem.
"We feel like we've gotten smarter over the years," Culver said.
University of South Dakota head football coach John Austin echoes Culver's safety precautions.
"It's very important that the players hydrate themselves before, during and after practice," Austin said. "And we always get into the swimming pool after practice. That's a requirement and it helps cool their body temperatures back down."
Austin has had no problems with athletes suffering from heat-related illness since he came to USD, "but we always have to take precautions," he said.
Freshmen USD football players started practice on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Varsity practice began today, Aug. 10.
"We have two practices a day," Austin said. "They run from about 9 to 11 a.m., then from 3 to 5 p.m. We have running water in the practice field, kids each have water bottles on the field and they take scheduled breaks where they are given additional water, or than can stop and have a drink of water at any time during practice. There's a misting machine out there, too."
Education is also important, Austin said.
"We have speakers � local doctors � who come to talk about it," he said. "Education is a big part of it. Even though a student athlete doesn't think he's thirsty, it's important to constantly drink water and we really have to emphasize that."