It’s only July, but football is back.
The U.S.Football Under-19 National Team is currently in Kuwait City, Kuwait, for the International Federation of American Football World Championship, a tournament held every two years that includes the best national teams composed of players age 19 or younger from around the world. The tournament hosts nearly 350 players on teams from Kuwait, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany, France, Austria and the United States.
This year, the teams are battling not only each other, but also some extreme conditions. It’s summer in Kuwait, when temperatures routinely soar over 110 degrees, so the U.S. team has had to be extremely conscious of its preparation to play in such a hot environment. This past week alone has seen daily highs of 115, 117 and 118 degrees.
Head coach Aaron Brady says, “the heat is definitely something on our minds. Especially with only 43 players on our roster, we have to go about things the right way.”
Dr. Douglas Casa is Chief Operating Officer of the Korey Stringer Institute, the official educational partner with USA Football for heat and hydration safety. Casa has been studying the effects of heat on athletes ever since he had a heat stroke while running as a teenager. He says there are three things the U.S. National team should focus on to safely perform its best in the heat.
Casa says, “It takes 7 to 10 days of training in hot conditions for your body to make the necessary changes. After awhile, your body will begin to adapt by doing things like maintaining a lower heat rate and body temperature, producing more sweat, and storing more water.”
The key to acclimatization is slowly progressing the intensity and length of activity as well as the amount of equipment worn. Head trainer Dave Weikel says, “the team has been highly focused on acclimatization. We told them to start getting hydrated even before camp. We have been getting them exposed to the heat steadily and adjusted the amount of equipment as needed. It’s a fine line to walk, because you have to be smart, but you also have to prepare to win football games.”
Casa says: “Water is the obvious one, but your body won’t retain that water without electrolytes. I recommend sports drinks such as Gatorade, which are high in electrolytes and sugar, as they give athletes important nutrients during exercise and allow them to retain the fluids they are taking in.”
U.S. National Team quarterback Bryan Scott says that in Kuwait, “you always have to be drinking as much water as possible. I am trying to drink three big jugs of water a day.”
Weikel says, “the guys are drinking a ton of water and sports drinks, and we are also giving them electrolyte supplements at meals.”
Recognition and Treatment
Casa says it is important to “learn the signs and treatment for heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat syncope. Coaches should encourage athletes to speak up when they are not feeling well.”
Weikel says that in Kuwait the team “has had pretty positive results, with only a couple guys experiencing minor cramping in the first game. We took them out, hydrated them and stretched them as needed. The most important thing is their safety.”
The U.S. proved that with the right preparation, a team can be successful in extreme conditions. The Americans picked up a 49-14 win over Mexiso on a hot and humid night.
Scott says, “It was hot, but we prepared right, and once you start playing, it’s just football. It’s an honor to play for Team USA, so of course we can grind through some heat.”
Host Kuwait lost its first game, but Brady says, “A lot of people over here are interested in American football. Their team has a good staff of mainly American coaches, who are teaching them a lot, and they are enthusiastic about football.”
Experiencing the culture of Kuwait has been an eye-opener for members of the U.S. National Team. As Brady says, “It is different here, but it’s good to get exposed to and learn about other cultures. We went to the U.S. Embassy the other day, which was a great experience.”
The U.S. National Team takes on Germany today at 4 p.m. EDT.
For more on Heat and Hydration Safety, check out U.S. Football’s official page.