It’s no secret that athletes are uniquely dependent on the environment around them. Players experience environmental conditions in ways that directly impact their performance and health. The effects of climate change have impacted sports at all levels, from t-ball leagues to professional championships. While celebrating Earth Day this week, we should recognize that the health of the planet and the health of players are inextricably related.
Certain consequences of climate change visibly alter the landscape of sports. For instance, you may have noticed Minnesota’s soccer fields appeared a little more yellow on account of the drought last summer. Or maybe you watched the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings inside of the conspicuously smoky Golden 1 Center during the 2018 Camp Fire that scorched through California. Or perhaps you paid attention to the athletes who endured heat exhaustion and coughing fits during the 2018 Australian Open due to intense bushfires.
With Minnesota summers growing hotter, fire seasons out west becoming longer and more intense and pollen seasons extending beyond the norm, we can expect to feel the consequences of climate change in our own community. In light of increasing precarious conditions, sport leaders and organizations must take on an adaptive role in mitigating potential health complications for athletes. Particularly at the youth level, this means familiarizing oneself with environmental hazards and how they impact sensitive groups.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), asthma is the third most diagnosed chronic disease in Minnesota. Statistically, one of your teammates or players is likely to have asthma. Some of its symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, trouble talking or walking, and fatigue (if a player is not diagnosed with asthma but is experiencing these symptoms, they should immediately contact their primary care provider and set up an appointment); while immediate medical attention can usually resolve an asthma attack, thousands of Americans die each year due to asthma. Asthma’s triggers vary from person to person but most commonly include allergens, irritants, strong odors, poor air quality (both indoors and out), cold air and changes in the weather, exercise and hormones.
With so many asthma triggers directly related to our environment, it is important to understand day to day conditions like the Air Quality Index and community vulnerability to extreme heat. Coaches and sport leaders can also take MDH’s online course, Athletes and Asthma: The Community Coach’s Role to learn how to identify the triggers and signs of an asthma attack.