Better choices must be made

It's not something any coach wants to think about.
There are no canned speeches, no flawless responses, no easy way to deal with it.
"It's the worst possible thing I could ever imagine," Chaney coach Ron Berdis said.
Yet it happens. Football players overwork themselves in practice and get sick or die. Wednesday's tragedy with Korey Stringer taught us that.
Practices sometimes get too hot, too intense, too soon. A player wants to get in shape -- wants to prove he's tough, that he can handle the heat, and pushes too hard.
He thinks he's invincible. He has to be. He's expected to be. But he's not.
But Korey Stringer wasn't some overzealous kid trying to impress his coaches and teammates. He was a finely tuned athlete following a methodically designed practice schedule surrounded by the best trainers in the world. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
National statistics: Since 1995, 18 college or high school players have died from heat-related causes, according to figures from the University of North Carolina. University of Florida freshman Eraste Autin died a week earlier after collapsing of heat stroke. Stringer was the first from the NFL.
"The tragedies that occurred to Korey Stringer and happened to those players in Florida were a wake up call to all coaches," Berdis said.
The good news is, most coaches were already awake.
During a summer conditioning session, Berdis noticed one of his players getting a little wobbly. It wasn't exceptionally hot, and drinks were readily available. But he came in a little out of shape and decided to push himself beyond where his body could take him. Some of the coaches noticed, an ambulance was called, and the player got help.
"Thank God everything worked out," Berdis said.
Actions like those are becoming more common. Most coaches now stress drinking plenty of fluids. They schedule practices earlier to avoid the heat. They supply fruits, vegetables, trainers, ice baths -- anything a player might need.
"If you're going to grab anything positive out of this, it's the need to be truly sensitive to these things," Berdis said. "I think it falls on the head coach to keep a pulse on a kid that's struggling. Discretion is the better part of valor."
But not all coaches are like Berdis. Some coaches still think taking fewer water breaks and wearing every piece of equipment -- regardless of the weather -- is the only way to get their players in shape.
"Some coaches won't let you take it off until it starts frying your brain," Berdis said.
Player pressure: Players push themselves beyond where they can go. Teammates insult those who "can't hack it." There's pressure to be tough, and it comes from everywhere, even parents and members of the community.
Things are better than they were 20 years ago. Players no longer take salt tablets and go two hours without water. But football practice isn't easy, and isn't meant to be. You strap on 15 pounds of equipment during the middle of August and do push-ups for two hours. It stinks. There were quite a few times during my (less-than-illustrious) football career that I spent practice thinking of mean things to do to my coach. Or his car.
They were usually the times when I needed to suck it up and get in shape. But not at the expense of my health. Or my life.
Two-a-days involve vomiting. They involve 300-pound guys -- who should probably weigh 250 -- doing wind sprints. They involve exercise and heat -- and plenty of it.
Like it or not, that's football.
But when a player is in danger of passing out and his coach or teammate tells him to "tough it out," that's not football. That's idiocy.
And it needs to stop.
XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at

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