The drinking problem in youth sports


youth sports hydration

Now that summer is here, the issue of preventing dehydration takes center-stage. Rising temperatures, thick humidity and direct sunshine combine to make exercising outside challenging for any young athlete.
Almost every summer we hear about athletes becoming dehydrated. Symptoms can range from muscle cramping, nausea and vomiting to confusion, disorientation and heat stroke. If you're an athlete (or have been one in the past), you may have experienced dehydration. No fun.
Not so long ago, it was thought that children and teens were especially susceptible to dehydration, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), "youth do not have less effective thermoregulatory ability, insufficient cardiovascular capacity, or lower physical exertion tolerance compared with adults during exercise in the heat when adequate hydration is maintained."
The problem is, we aren't doing a good job in the 'maintaining adequate hydration' department. First and foremost, young athletes need to start practices and games in a well-hydrated state. According to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance (YSSA), two-thirds of athletes show up to games and practices significantly dehydrated. Getting behind on fluids during the day before practice not only makes playing sports harder, it compounds the risk of dehydration.
Next, we aren't doing well with staying hydrated during outdoor activity. One significant obstacle may be not getting enough breaks in the action to drink.
Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) outline how to keep our young athletes prepared for exercise during the hot months of summer.

youth sports water break
Parents and coaches should encourage players to take responsibility for their own hydration routine.

The amounts athletes should be drinking and how frequently is an area where improvement is needed.

 Children aged 9-12 years should drink frequently—about a ½ cup to a cup of water every 20 minutes. For example, my 11 year-old son's soccer practice is 1 ½ hours long, so he should get 4 water breaks and drink at least one to two 16-ounce bottles of water, or sports drink (due to more than one hour of activity).

  Teens should drink 5 or 6 cups of water or sports drink each hour. Frequency of fluid breaks are not specified for teens, but it is reasonable to offer 2 to 3 drinking breaks per hour to ensure adequate fluid consumption. For instance, a 15 year-old lacrosse athlete should have 4 to 6 water breaks for a 2-hour practice, and drink at least 5 to 6, 16-ounce bottles of water or sports drink.

Preventing dehydration in young athletes is part vigilance and part education for the parents and coaches involved. They need to make sure children and teens have an adequate supply of fluids, ample opportunity to drink and take advantage of teachable moments.

  ♦ Parents need to send more than enough fluid with their athletes to games and practices. A single 16-ounce bottle of water is probably not enough, unless your child is 8 years or younger and exercising less than an hour.  

Coaches should stay on top of their athlete's fluid consumption and offer enough breaks throughout practices so they have the opportunity to drink. Yes, it's hard to break when practice is moving along, but it is necessary. It is not ideal for kids and teens to save rehydration for the end of practice.

Both parents and coaches should teach children about the importance of staying hydrated, the signs and symptoms of dehydration, and encourage young athletes to become responsible for routine hydration. This can be done through prioritizing messages about hydration on and off the field, and walking the talk (or acting on principle).
Let's end the drinking problem in youth sport
. Are you sending your child to practice with enough fluids? Do you give your team enough time to drink? Sound off in the comments below.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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