Youth Sports: Preventing Dehydration & Heat Illness

dehydration and heat illness in children

children’s sports health


Sports should be a fun part of childhood and adolescence. Parents, coaches, and athletes should take every step necessary to keep sports fun and enjoyable while also preventing injuries, dehydration, heat illness, concussions and complications from sickle cell trait.




Dehydration can leave an athlete feeling tired while reducing their ability to focus. It can also lead to an increase in core body temperature, strain the cardiovascular system, reduce blood flow to muscles and increase risk of heat stroke and death. Risk for dehydration is greater in hot, humid environments and at higher altitude. Every year we hear about a high school student who dies due to dehydration or over hydration. Kids with larger body sizes have an increased risk of dehydration particularly when they are practicing with pads and helmets in the heat because equipment can trap heat making it difficult to dissipate the heat their body is producing.


How can you prevent dehydration? Thirst is not always a good indicator of hydration needs, particularly in children. Coaches should give kids a 5 to 10 minute rest and fluid break after every 25 to 30 minutes of activity. Sports drinks and water should be provided and when exercising for a prolonged period of time (over 1 hour) or in the heat, children should be encouraged to consume a sports drink that contains sodium. Sodium is critical to help their bodies retain the fluid that they are drinking. Over-consumption of fluids that do not contain enough sodium, like water, can dilute blood sodium leading to a dangerous, even deadly, condition called hyponatremia. Coaches should also monitor children to make sure that they are drinking.


When the temperature and humidity are high rest and fluid breaks should be scheduled after every 15-20 minutes of activity. And when the temperature and humidity are very high, practice should be canceled or moved indoors.


Symptoms of dehydration:

– dry mouth
– thirst
– being irritable or cranky
– headache
– poor athletic performance
– dizziness
– cramps
– excessive fatigue
– confusion


Heat Illness


Heat cramps may lead to intense pain and muscle spasms. Though the name includes the word key, heat cramps can occur in any sport including ice-skating and swimming. Prevention includes adequate conditioning, getting acclimated to changes in heat and humidity, and providing adequate fluid including a sports drink that contains sodium. Treatment involves replacing fluid and sodium losses, stretching and massage.


Heat exhaustion may occur when a child continues to play through some of the symptoms of dehydration. In addition to the symptoms of dehydration heat exhaustion can also include the following symptoms:

– pale skin

– profuse sweating

– nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

– stomach cramps

– muscle cramps


If heat exhaustion is suspected the child should be taken out of play and moved to a cool area. Equipment and extra clothing should be removed and cold towels and a fan used to cool the child. If the child does not make quick improvements, seek immediate medical treatment.


Heat stroke is a severe and very serious form of heat illness. Signs and symptoms may include those for dehydration and heat cramps as well as:

– core body temperature above 104°F (rectal temperature)

– altered consciousness

– seizures

– confusion

– irritability or combativeness


Immediate treatment for heat stroke includes calling on-site emergency medical personnel or 911 and beginning to cool the child with cold towels, fans, and cold water while waiting and during transport to the hospital or medical facility.


National Athletic Trainers Association

Heat Illness, Medline Plus