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Working with the Athletic Trainer

Coaches have to create and maintain many relationships over the course of their career. Athletic directors, assistant coaches, parents—each of these people participate in the lives of athletes. But what might be the one of the most important relationships is often overlooked. Having a strong connection with your program’s athletic trainer can make all the difference in the well-being of your athletes.

Because the athletic trainer plays such a large role in an athletes’ career, especially one who is injured, coaches might feel that this relationship is already created through that aspect alone. However, it is important that coaches work on their end to help make this into a positive working partnership. In an article on the National Federation of State High School Associations website, Head Athletic Trainer for Mechanicsburg (PA) Area School District Alex Zettlemoyer lays out the foundation blocks for building this relationship—communication, knowledge, and trust.

The most important of these elements is communication. While it may seem like this should also be the easiest, many times it can be difficult for coaches and athletic trainers to maintain a constant line of contact. “[Communication] can be particularly difficult in high school/middle school setting where the ration of athlete to athletic trainer is typically quite high,” says Zettlemoyer. “Compounding this issue, the athletic trainer may not see a particular coach every day.”

In this case, coaches can use calling, texting, or emailing to keep in contact with the athletic trainer, as well as visiting the athletic training room whenever possible. Of course, one topic that coaches should make sure to talk with the athletic trainer about is the progress of their injured athletes. Doing so will greatly reduce any misunderstandings in return to play protocol and will help coaches to know the limits of these players in both practice and games. It can also be useful when answering the questions of parents, which oftentimes are directed to coaches.

However, conversations should also revolve around other aspects of the sport. Zettlemoyer emphasizes the need for coaches to relay information regarding changes in practice or game times as early as possible. This will help the athletic trainers make changes to their schedules or enlist extra help to make sure that every event has coverage. Coaches also should not be afraid to ask for advice on making practice safer, as this will not only help your team stay healthy, but also show that you value the opinion and knowledge of the athletic trainer.

Opening this line of communication is the easiest way to develop trust. According to Zettlemoyer, “When all parties have clear expectations about the care and return to play of an injured athlete or the safety of all athletes, trust will be built.”

Many times, a coach will be the main person an athlete discloses an injury to. The first place a coach should turn at this moment is to the athletic trainer. They then need to trust that the athletic trainer has the athletes’ best interest at heart. This means not sending them with instructions, but instead to learn what they need to do to heal. Keeping an open mind will then help the athletic trainer have faith that you are following the plan for the athlete, instead of pushing a different agenda.

Last, Zettlemoyer says that it is important for both coaches and athletic trainers to be knowledgeable and stick to the rules. “Both parties show their integrity through adherence to school, athletic, personal and professional ethics,” he says. “Each must uphold these standards and have the confidence the other is acting in a like manner.” Coaches should familiarize themselves with the school’s code of conduct, and also make sure that the health of their athletes is at the center of every decision that they make. This will ensure that both athletic trainers and coaches are following the same guidelines and also increase the element of trust. 

Click here to read the full article.

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