In my time working with athletes and getting to work with athletic trainers, I have often found some less than stellar relationships between the two groups. I think it is important for the athletes and coaches to understand what an athletic trainer is and how best to work together. Now, just like any industry, there will always be good and bad professionals to work with. What I hope to do here is give you an idea of how to start an open relationship and know the behaviors you are going to see in a good athletic trainer.
What is an athletic trainer?
Athletic trainers are traditionally the first responders for sports. They prepare each athletic venue for the occurrence of possible injury and/or emergencies, work on the sidelines assessing athletes when injuries do occur, help rehabilitate and treat them acutely, all while monitoring the field of play. By assessing athletes rapidly, the athletic trainers can take appropriate steps to establish a diagnosis, apply appropriate treatments, and when necessary, refer the athletes to other experts for further evaluation and management. They help decide whether the athlete can safely return to play from injury. They also serve in a variety of other roles with athletes such as confidant and even counselor on occasion. Since they have to wear so many hats and work so many hours (especially on the collegiate and professional level) it is important to remember that they are human beings trying to be everything to all people, balancing what is needed versus what is wanted. I would caution you to be wary of an athletic trainer who believes he or she is always correct or has to everything done his or her way shunning advice or feedback from others involved. The athletic trainer who places the needs of the patient above all else is what I would consider the model athletic trainer.
How to work well with them
Communication here is key. Understanding the limits of your education and their education and how you can help each other will always bolster a better relationship. The athletic trainers are educated to make clinical decisions about a variety of health conditions, the acute management of those conditions, and when it is safe for the athlete to return to sport. To participate in a power struggle over who should make return to play decisions (i.e. coach versus athletic trainer), suggests that the patient’s needs are not the priority. It can be hard to check your ego at the door to take advice (or yourself out of a game), but do yourself a favor and do it. By talking more often and making sure everyone is on the same page, you can do a better job of not only performing, but keeping yourself and your athletes safe. Working with athletic trainers throughout the competitive year (off season, pre- season, and in-season) will allow for the building of relationships so athletes will be safe and have potential issues addressed before they become performance limiting or at worst, catastrophic.
I’m lucky to have worked with a variety of great athletic trainers throughout my time in competing and coaching. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to lift my arm overhead or do pull ups again. Take your time as a coach or athlete to get to know your athletic trainer and find out how to make the most out of your relationship with them. This post was heavily edited and contributed to by my friend and Colleague Aaron Sciascia who is an athletic trainer, educator, and researcher. He is the gentleman who spearheaded my shoulder repair by referring me to the physicians who performed the surgery and working tirelessly on my rehab. Thanks as always to him for his work.