As Summer Sports Heat Up

Through the years, I’ve been asked many times if there was one particular incident that compelled me to create the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

While there are many that I can point to as contributing factors, one certainly stands out because it involved my own son.

I was at home in Munster, Ind., during one of those typical hot and muggy Midwestern summer afternoons in the 1970s when my son Eric returned from his baseball game.

He entered the kitchen with a dejected look and announced that he didn’t want to play baseball anymore. It caught me by surprise, especially since, until that moment, he really loved the game and everything about it.

Perplexed by his sudden lack of interest, I asked him why he wanted to call it quits.

“The game just isn’t any fun,” he told me. “Our coach told us no one could have a drink of water until we scored a run. It was really hot out, and we didn’t score until the last inning.”

My blood pressure soared as I listened to Eric’s story. The sun was blazing, the humidity was suffocating, and my son and his teammates were being deprived fluids. This was an 8-and-under team!

Another Form Of Child Abuse

Eric never returned to the baseball field after that season, and I can’t help but think what unfolded on that sweltering day had a lot to do with it.

He and his teammates had the misfortune of playing for a coach with a really warped sense of what youth sports are all about. This guy was willing to put the health of a group of innocent children at risk because he thought that sending thirsty--and dehydrated--children up to bat would actually make them perform better. Does it get any crazier than that?

Trying to motivate children by withholding fluids until they perform to the coach’s expectations is tantamount to child abuse--and has no place in youth sports.

The same goes for taking fluids away as punishment for making mistakes. Keeping young bodies hydrated, especially while playing sports, is one of the most important things that moms, dads and volunteer coaches should be aware of; it’s one of those topics that youth sports administrators should make sure every one of their volunteers fully comprehends.

Preventable Deaths

As recently as 2006, five young football players, ranging in age from 11 to 17, died of heat stroke, according to the University of North Carolina-based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.

While withholding fluids was done out of ignorance 50 years ago, there clearly is no excuse for it today.

Consuming fluids doesn’t cause players to cramp up; it doesn’t hamper their ability to perform and certainly doesn’t make kids slower.

But consuming fluids does help keep our kids alive.

So as the summer temperatures soar, make sure you have sound policies in place to keep participants safe:

· Give players a chance to acclimatize to the heat slowly.

· Make sure water is available before, during and after practice.

· Make sure practices are altered to avoid long workouts in high humidity.

All children deserve a safe experience in whatever sport they choose this summer. Let’s make sure we don’t let them down.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at