When Lake Highlands begins football practice next Monday, Todd Holmes will be starting his 17th year as the Wildcats’ athletic trainer. In that time, he said he’s taken one football player to the hospital who was having heat-related problems. That player made such a quick recovery while waiting to be admitted, he left before seeing a doctor.

Someone with Holmes’ real-world experience might roll his eyes at Sunday’s front-page story in The Dallas Morning News with the alarming headline that some local school districts don’t follow National Athletic Trainers Association and UIL guidelines to avoid heat illnesses. Instead, Holmes said following those recommendations, whenever possible, should be every trainer’s goal.

"Nowadays, it’s ‘Take no chances,’" said Holmes.

Not every recommendation is feasible for every school, as the story points out. The key to avoiding problems is preparation, Holmes said. Most football players have been working out over the summer and getting acclimated to high temperatures before practice begins.

"Because we’ve been there so long, we know which kids are susceptible to heat problems," Holmes said. "We get them them hydrated before games and practices."

To combat the heat, Holmes recommends a supplement that would make your grandmother proud: chicken soup.

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He said chicken soup is loaded with water and sodium to help athletes stay hydrated. Pickle juice, also full of sodium, is another popular choice among athletes. Proper nutrition can be as important as hydration, Holmes said, including not skipping breakfast like so many teens do.

One of the recommendations the story focused on was having ice baths on the sidelines to immediately cool a body suffering heat stroke. Like many schools, LH doesn’t have ice-filled troughs at practice but can immerse players in chilly whirlpools inside the fieldhouse, which is right next to the practice field.

Holmes said LH also plays it safe by conducting both of its two-a-day practices in the morning. The players are fed healthy snacks between practices and are encouraged to speak up if they’re feeling ill. "Any kid who comes to you and says they’re starting to feel sick, they’re done for the day."

During practices, players can get water at any time. The days of coaches associating water breaks with weakness are long gone. Nowadays, coaches are more likely to yell at players if they don’t drink enough.

"[Former coach] Jerry Gayden was really good about that and coach [Scott] Smith is even better," Holmes said. "Coach Smith is the most careful coach there is. He wants to win as much as anybody, but he wants these kids taken care of."

Practicing in the heat is unavoidable, but Holmes said most heat-related problems can be avoided.

"If a kid eats well and does what we tell them to do, they’re really not going to have a problem," Holmes said.