New heat-policy outlines rules for heat-acclimation, practice duration, water breaks and more for fall sports.

Coaches around the state of Kansas are having to adjust quickly to a new heat policy recently issued by the Kansas State High School Activities Association that governs heat acclimation for fall athletic practices.

The new guidelines limit practices to three hours long and prohibit coaches from having two-a-day practices within the first five days of practice.

After the first five days are up, coaches may begin two-a-day practices but may only have them every other day with a rest day or single-practice day in between.

There are also several new changes to football practice rules including that there must be a minimum of one day per week that players can rest and recover as well as limiting which days players may practice full-contact and with certain equipment.

Pratt High head football coach, Jamie Cruce, said the new heat policy will definitely affect practice schedules for the football team, resulting in the need for more evening practices when it is cooler outside so as to avoid breaking the rules outlined by the heat-index.

“We haven’t been typically a school that’s done a lot of two-a-days but we have done some in the past and that [the policy] eliminates doing that the first week which is kind of when you would need them,” Cruce said. “But I think the big factor is when it gets to the 90 degrees heat-index, which I think is quite often in Kansas.”

Cruce said one good thing the team has going for them is the excellent participation from the players in summer weights and practices as well as the large number of returning starters and seniors.

“I think KSHSAA wanted to just get out in front of a potential problem,” Cruce said. “Especially football has taken a lot of-- some would say justified, some would say unjustified-- scrutiny in the media with CTE and the concussions, and I don’t think necessarily that the new rules are bad. They might have erred on the side of caution with some of them.”

At the end of the day, Cruce said that KSHSAA only has the best interest of the students at mind, so it is difficult to fault them for that.

“They might have gone too far and maybe our kids won’t be ready for the heat when we actually play a game that lasts over two hours but I don’t think it’s a bad thing--it’s a challenge,” Cruce said. “The time frame that we found out was a little bit short notice, I think, but good coaches will adjust to whatever parameters are set and I think after a year or two the coaches will get used to it.”

Skyline Schools football coach Andrew Nation said the new rules would not make much difference to Thunderbird practices.

"I don't see it affecting anything at all. We've always kinda practiced with techniques using the heat-index chart and everything they give us already, and we were monitoring water breaks and everything," Nation said. "I thought it was a pretty good way to minimize any risk to the kids, and I don't think this is going to change anything. I don't think it is going to hinder our ability to get ready--everybody is under the same blanket so I think it's going to be fine."

Summer Younie, Pratt High head volleyball coach, said the new rules will hit volleyball practices pretty hard despite the heat-acclimation part of the rules not being a major issue with volleyball being held in a climate-controlled gym.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve done two-a-days,” Younie said. “We do a lot of fundamentals in the morning and then we’ll do running and that kind of stuff right after the fundamentals at the end of practice and then, in the afternoon, we’ll hit some more fundamentals but then we do a lot more team-like drills, high-level, that kind of stuff.”

Not being able to hold two-a-days for this first week of practice, Younie said, has proven to be a challenge since all of the drills, conditioning and information must be crammed into a three-hour practice.

“It is a competitive sport, so today was a challenge, for sure,” Younie said. “How do we structure practice and still try to get everything by our pre-season league tournament next Saturday? So, it’s been rough--it was different today.”

With the passing of the heat-index last year, Younie said she understood the reasoning behind it, especially as a track coach herself, but with volleyball being held indoors, she said it is a little difficult to group all fall sports under the same rules.

On the other hand, Mike Neifert, head cross country coach at Skyline High School, said that he does not believe it will affect cross country very much for his runners.

“We’ve done two-a-day practices but we were never doing more than three hours at a time and we had actually debated last year about the effectiveness of two-a-day practices for our sport anyway,” Neifert said. “I think that it’s a good policy to have. During the fall season with the temperatures near the 90’s or near the 100’s, it can be dangerous for kids to be out there without a lot of water.”

Pratt High cross country coach, Kathy Hitz, said she was a little caught off-guard by the policy due to not having any issues in the past with her own runners, however, she said it is an issue on a nationwide scale.

“It really can be a very serious issue. I, myself, had a bad experience my freshman year in college and ended up in the hospital,” Hitz said. “It was even an early morning race but had high humidity--I did not realize I had stopped sweating and by then I was in bad shape. I continued to struggle with the heat for years after that. So, it really does make you more susceptible to heat issues in the future.”

Though it may take some adapting, Hitz said she is optimistic that practices can change to accommodate the rules without much of an issue.

“There could possibly be times we would not be able to practice if the heat index is too high but it isn't anything that we can't overcome with options, whether it be restructuring the workout to give more water breaks, or having more morning practices,” Hitz said. “The policy is there to protect kids and coaches. That is what is most important.”