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AFM Magazine

The Other Coordinator

If used properly, athletic trainers can be the MVP of a coaching staff
by: Barry Terranova
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Throughout the life of our magazine (now American Football Monthly), I have very seldom written articles. But, when we conceptualized this special issue on sports medicine, I immediately decided to author a piece on the role of the sports medicine staff for a football team. I wanted to do this because I strongly believe athletic trainers and sports medicine staffs are potentially one of the most under utilized and overlooked aspects of a successful football program.

Lets face it; the most valuable assets for any coach are the players on his team. As a smart manager, which any successful coach must be, the coach must protect his resources. How can a coach best protect his assets and insure that his best 22 suit up on game day?

He must fully incorporate his athletic trainer into his staff and use him or her to keep the coaching staff completely up-to-date and fully informed on individual players health and physical condition, which athletes can practice, which ones should be held out, who will be ready for the upcoming game and what must be done to protect a player from re-injuring himself. All of these points are vital to efficient and effective personnel management, and managing personnel is critical to a teams success.

While all of these things are important, a trainer, who is fully integrated into the staff, can also provide invaluable insight on any number of issues that affect the overall team and how coaches prepare for games. For example, maybe a team is having tremendous practices, yet is performing poorly on game days. The trainer might notice that the players are "dead-legged" from working too hard during the week and have nothing left for game days. The trainer might notice this due to increased fluid intake, pulled muscles, or any number of factors. He must be able to communicate this to the coaching staff openly and freely.

I am a zealot because I have seen too many occasions where a trainer and his advice, guidance and counsel have saved a coach by giving him good information on who can play and who cannot. These things affect depth charts, play calling and game management, and are extremely valuable to the detail-oriented coach. You can bet your last dollar that each and every day of the season Kansas States Bill Snyder gets a breakdown on his players medical condition that would make the CIA proud. He leaves no stone unturned and neither should any coach.

But, dont take my word for it. I polled several trainers from across the country and asked them what they perceived was the most successful way for a trainer to work for and with a coaching staff. The following are some of their thoughts.

Rod Walters, DA, ATC
Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine
University of South Carolina

"The role of sports medicine staff and the coaching staff requires good communication between the two staffs. Coaches must feel that the athletic trainer wants to get players back to good health and athletic trainers must hold players accountable to make sure that they get treatment and complete their rehabilitation goals. I think this is of utmost importance and is vital to the success of a program. By in large coaches over the years have been very supportive of this. I feel like we understand their needs and likewise they understand where we are coming from. The coaches want players healthy on the field, and I want them out there healthy, thus we have a common goal and interest."

Jim Madaleno
Head Athletic Trainer for Football
University of Kentucky

"The Head Athletic Trainer should be looked at by the head coach as one of his Coordinators (i.e. offensive coordinator). With that said, the Head Athletic Trainer needs to understand that this position comes with not only a huge responsibility but also accountability. By that I mean the athletic trainer should not expect to encounter a gracious, soft-spoken head coach. Understand that the football program belongs to the university/college. The head coach, his staff of assistants, and the head athletic trainer all need to communicate daily, and realize that no one is above anyone else. All opinions need to be considered in the decision-making processes. It should be obvious that the person who is most experienced in each area have the most say when their area need be considered. Simply, an athletic trainer doesn't call plays and a coach shouldn't evaluate athletic injuries.

My job is to care for the health of the student athletes and to protect the institution for which I am employed by. I am not above the head coach.... Nor is he above me. It is a great professional working relationship."

Barney Graff, MS, ATC
Head Football Athletic Trainer
Oregon State University

"Communication. This is vital to all programs. The coaching staff needs to be aware of the player's injury and what their level of participation is to be. Protect the players from further harm, while also trying to get them back to 100%. I have been fortunate and have worked with coaches that will listen to the medical restrictions of the sports medicine staff. That doesn't mean they are always happy with them, but they understand it is better to rest a guy one day or week instead of losing him for an additional week/month/season."

Scott McGonagle
Head Athletic Trainer
University of Miami

"...You should be the direct line of communications between the doctors and the coaching staff. They (the coaches) should rely on you to handle any situation that arises. I feel that you are as important as the Offensive or Defensive coordinator on any staff...

Without a successful certified athletic trainer and team physician your team will not have the success that other teams will have. They can identify problems and allow the staff to work on weakness that a player may have. Additionally, they can keep a player from further injuring himself to a point that he maybe lost for the season. With proper rehabilitation the athlete will be returned to competition as soon as possible and as safe as possible."

Bill Bean
Athletic Trainer
University of Utah

"I think that the sports medicine staff (certified athletic trainer, physicians and other health care professionals) is extremely important in advising coaches of the well being of their athletes and what to expect from an injured athlete in regards to time frame to return or what limitations he or she might have in practice. This is a topic that a coach should be well informed on but not be responsible to make a health care decisions. There are conflicts between coaches and health care individuals because coaches do not want any down time for their athletes and health care professionals want to insure recovery with not residual effect. This often becomes a conflict that needs to be discussed rationally and intelligently. Sports medicine has a responsibility to keep athletes on the field and insure that injured individuals are managed appropriately. Some coaches totally understand this and realize that missing two days of practice because of a sore knee could buy the a healthy remaining season. Others feel that unless there is bone sticking out if an athlete does not play that week and should be pushed to play. One thing I keep in mind is that if an athlete tells me he/she is in pain, regardless of the injury, something is going on that needs to be addressed either physically or mentally."

Dr. Jeff Fair
United States Naval Academy

"Most veteran coaches will tell you a good sports medicine program is vital for their success. If you have your best players ready to play each week, the team has a better chance for success at any level.

It's very important to have trust and confidence in your sports medicine staff. There must be a flow of information both ways. Injury information for the coaches and schedules and personnel changes from the coaches."

John R. Bowman, MEd, LAT
Director of Athletic Training Services
Ohio University

"...the daily role with coaching staff. The athletic trainer should meet with head coach prior to every practice to review status of "unhealthy" players to allow purposeful practice while limiting chance of re-injury. I also meet with position coaches regarding change in status of their specific position players. Also, keep in mind special teams coaches. Our coaches at Ohio have a good grasp on the function of the sports medicine team. We work very well together."

Jeffrey S. Monroe
Head Athletic Trainer
Michigan State University

"The sports medicine team of certified athletic trainers and physicians are very important to the success of a football program. There must be great communication between staffs and a sense of urgency in delivering health care. Coaches should question the care of their athletes but never challenge the care of their athletes. There must always be some separation of the Sports Medicine Staff and the football coaches in terms of reporting lines. The medical people should report the athletic director and the football coach should report the athletic director. The athletic trainer should never report solely to the football coach."

Michael J. Hanley MS, ATC-L
Head Athletic Trainer
East Carolina University

"Most importantly, there needs to be a sense of trust. The coaches need to trust the sports medicine staff that we are going to get the players back on the field as quickly and safely as possible. We as a sports medicine staff must recognize that getting the players back in action is critical to the coaching staff. We must demonstrate the willingness to do whatever we can to make that happen. Once that level of trust is established, working relationships between coaches and sports medicine staffs are much easier."


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