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The Coach & Athletic Trainer Relationship

Most sports teams have help from a variety of support staff beyond assistant coaches. For coaches fortunate enough to have athletic training coverage, this is one relationship that’s certainly worth investing time in.

In a blog on his website, Rich Alercio, Head Football Coach at St. Johnsbury (Vt.) Academy, writes about this relationship between coach and athletic trainers, saying it “must be one of mutual trust and confidence with both working toward a common goal: to return the athlete to safe participation as soon as possible.”

He says this starts with constant and open communication to ensure both parties are on the same page. This will prevent situations where the coach tells a player the team needs him on the field when the athletic trainer is saying he or needs more time to recover from an injury.

He also explains that athletic trainers are educated health-care providers responsible for the well-being of hundreds of athletes. As such, he says he doesn’t want to make things harder for his athletic trainer and shows this by supporting their decisions and focusing on who is available to play instead of those who are not.

This fits it in with advice from Alex Zettlemoyer, a long-time athletic trainer for the Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Area School district. In a feature on the NFHS website, he emphasizes the importance of communication between coaches and athletic trainers, saying that lack of communication is the root of most misunderstandings between the two.

He goes to say that this communication should not be limited to talking about injured athletes. It should also include discussion on how athletes are doing off the field, safety, practice and game expectations, athletic training coverage, weather, and more.

He suggests that coaches allow the athletic trainer to fully evaluate athletes and develop subsequent treatment plans.  “Sending the athlete to the athletic trainer with instructions to ‘just tape it,’ sending the athlete directly to his/her physician, or trying to manage the injury himself sends the message that the athletic trainer is not trusted. In turn, the athletic trainer becomes resentful of the coach and says something to the effect, ‘I don’t tell your coach what plays to call and he/she shouldn’t tell me how to manage the injured athlete.’ And so the downward spiral begins…”

A little time and effort, along with a lot of communication, will help assure your athletes are as healthy as can be, even if it means they miss a practice or two.


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