Aug. 16, 2007
IOWA CITY — Before football practice, Paul Federici is more likely to study a weather report than game film. But in many instances, the knowledge he assembles is just as crucial as any X’s and O’s he would discover from a scouting report.
Federici begins his fourth year as director of athletic training services at the University of Iowa. His main concern during August two-a-days isn’t Northern Illinois or Wisconsin, but rather Mother Nature. Although it is traditionally hot across the entire country during the start of camp, Iowa’s humidity can add another variable to the heat equation.
“We monitor the climate conditions every practice — the heat, the humidity and the sun’s energy,” Federici said. “That’s all formulated into a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). We use that to recommend to coaches whether anything needs to be adjusted for practice regarding adding breaks or any other options we may have.”
UI Coach Kirk Ferentz traditionally works two hydration breaks of four or five minutes into every two-hour practice session. If Federici notices that the WBGT requires an additional recess, he will inform Ferentz, who is always accommodating.
“Coach is as concerned about player safety and welfare as we are and he’s very good to work with,” Federici said. “If it is going to be a hazardous day, I will talk to Coach before practice and we’ll go over what changes we can consider without disrupting the flow of practice.”
Keeping a observant eye on the well-being of the 100-plus Hawkeye football squad doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of Federici and Ferentz. According to Federici, that is another benefit to attending the UI.
“We have a lot of people watching these players every day,” he said. “We have strength and conditioning coaches, we have athletic trainers, athletic training students and student managers. There are a lot of eyes watching the players so if someone is behaving a little abnormally and they’re looking fatigued or drained because of the heat, we can usually pick up on that pretty quick and remove them before the situation worsens.”
The training staff keeps closer tabs on players with a history of heat illness, including muscle cramping and heat exhaustion. Federici preaches a preventative approach consisting of aggressive and continuous hydration. All players are required to weigh themselves before and after practice so Federici and his staff can monitor who is losing fluids and at what rate. The Hawkeyes promote the consumption of any readily available sports drink that consists of five percent carbohydrate content and 110 milligrams of sodium per serving.
“Coach is as concerned about player safety and welfare as we are and he’s very good to work with. If it is going to be a hazardous day, I will talk to Coach before practice and we’ll go over what changes we can consider without disrupting the flow of practice.”
Paul Federici, UI director of athletic training services
“We know that scientifically, sodium is the key element that if lost excessively will predispose someone to a heat illness,” Federici said. “We encourage and educate our athletes to use sports drinks and again, that has to be continuous.”
For the players who lose more, a supplement is added to their drinks to get additional sodium into their system.
Diet is another area that the UI staff observes. Players are not to skip any meals and they are provided an evening snack. They are reminded to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and participate in continuous hydration. Yet despite all of the prevention and care, there will always be heat victims.
“The first couple days of camp we did have some players struggle with the heat,” Federici said. “They experienced some muscle cramping during the latter part of practice. We’ve not had anyone experience any heat illness beyond slight muscle cramping.”
Federici explained that cramping can come in several varieties. To treat heat illness, Federici said that the first thing that needs to be done is to stop the body from heating.
“We get them inside to an air-conditioned building either inside (the Kenyon Practice Facility) or into Jacobson (Athletic Building),” Federici said. “We get their uniform off, get them cooled down and continue oral hydration for up to 30 minutes until we see which direction their recovery is going.”
On rare occasions, a physician might be called to begin intravenous fluids, but Federici emphasized that “we really try to avoid that if we can.”
Practice gear is another factor to consider when dealing with heat. The black helmets worn by the Hawkeyes attract more heat, but the team is equipped with clothing materials, undergarments and practice equipment that allow heat to escape easily.
Federici graduated from Penn State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in health education. He received a master’s degree from Vanderbilt in 1991 in health promotion/education. Federici joined the UI staff in 2004 after serving as the head athletic trainer for the Seattle Seahawks for five seasons. Prior to joining the Seahawks, he was the head athletic trainer at Vanderbilt University from 1994-99.
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