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Working With Athletic Trainers

Wagner, Kathy CSCS; Greener, Trent CSCS; Petersen, Drew CSCS

Section Editor(s): Hedrick, Allen MA, CSCS*D, FNSCA

Strength and Conditioning Journal: February 2011 - Volume 33 - Issue 1 - p 53-55
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182079d6c
Column: College Coaches Corner
Free

THE PRIMARY GOALS OF ANY STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PROGRAM ARE TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE AND REDUCE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR INJURY. IN ADDITION, STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACHES ALSO PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE REHABILITATION PROCESS WHEN AN ATHLETE IS RECOVERING FROM AN INJURY. BECAUSE OF THIS, THE STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACH AND THE ATHLETIC TRAINER MUST WORK TOGETHER TO DEVELOP THE BEST POSSIBLE PLAN TO GET THE ATHLETE BACK INTO COMPETITION AS QUICKLY AND SAFELY AS POSSIBLE. THE PURPOSE OF THIS COLUMN IS TO HEAR HOW OUR PANEL OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACHES WORKS WITH ATHLETIC TRAINERS AT THEIR SCHOOLS TO ACCOMPLISH THIS GOAL.

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Column Editor

1Athletic Department University of Texas Arlington, Arlington, Texas; 2Athletic Department University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming; and 3Athletic Department Humboldt State University, Arcata, California

The fundamental precept of our job is to improve athletic performance. There is probably no more important aspect of that than when an athlete is injured. I receive a weekly injury report from each athletic trainer regarding his or her respective teams by e-mail. Additionally, I receive an update report during the week if there are major changes to an athlete's workout status. The athletic trainer and I meet daily to discuss the modifications needed for injured athletes and the nature of their injury. We are fortunate to be located next door to each other, so communication is easy. The athletic trainer gets a copy of each workout, so they know what exercises are going to be performed in the weight room. This also helps avoid doubling up with rehabilitation. We all believe that the athlete should be as involved as possible in the weight room. Consequently, we work around all injuries by reducing the load, modifying the exercise, or substituting for the exercise. In cases of more severe injury, we “stay off” the injured site all together. In the case of staying off the injured site, we will still work everything else; for example, a bad right knee could result in lifting upper body and left leg only.

The athlete's workout will not be modified in the weight room unless the athletic trainer has communicated a need for modification. If an injury occurs at practice, we contact the athletic trainer to verify to what extent the athlete can perform the workout. Sometimes, after consulting the athletic trainer, the solution is “let's have them try it and see how it feels.” In this instance, the athlete will try everything. We carefully monitor the technique and range of motion if we suspect that an athlete is hurt. If the injury bothers them, they are encouraged to speak up. It is hard for us as strength coaches, but it is not our job to judge their pain tolerance. If they say it hurts, we stop and make a modification. After every workout, I communicate with the athletic trainer any modification or pain complaint I had, so they can properly assess the athlete's condition.

If the athlete has a long rehab process because of a major injury or surgery, they will train what they can with the team and then head to rehab. Early on, they are in rehab with the athletic trainer more than the weight room. As the process continues, it becomes just the opposite. Once they are out of “bodyweight” mode and the athletic trainer feels that they are ready to start progressing with weight, we work them back into our workouts. It is definitely a highly coordinated effort, based on effective communication to get the athlete back on the playing field as soon as possible.

Kathy Wagner

is the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches work closely with each other all year long. These professionals concurrently spend a great deal of time with the student athletes during competitive seasons, developmental off seasons, summer training sessions, and nontraditional competitive seasons. For the college strength and conditioning coach, a growing amount of time with student athletes may occur during discretionary periods, when sport coaches are not be allowed to be with their athletes. The only official contact student athletes have during these periods may be with the athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. This requires each to be organized and have a relationship grounded in communication.

The athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach must first work together, establishing basic plans and policies. These planning sessions are done before the start of each school year. Issues such as information sharing, coordinating yearly training sessions, determining sports medicine coverage, and establishing emergency action plans must be outlined. This planning also allows each to address the following weekly and daily objectives: what specific type of coverage is needed at the training sessions; how an athlete's injury status is communicated; and how will modifications to current training prescriptions be communicated. If there are any changes made to an athletes practice status, alternative conditioning plans may need to be designed. These can come from the strength and conditioning coach or the athletic trainer or from a collaboration of the 2.

E-mails, phone conversations, hard copies of the detailed daily injury reports, and face-to-face meetings are excellent methods of communication. The use of all these methods assures that the most up-to-date, accurate, and consistent interpretation of the information occurs. Because an athlete's health status can change hourly, some written report at the end of each day and start of the following morning should be the norm. A strength coach with an up-to-date health report of an injured athlete is able to clearly articulate what the athlete can or cannot do during a workout.

One ideal format for interaction between the athletic trainers and the strength and conditioning coaches is a daily meeting at the start of every sport coaches' staff meeting. A quick informative update from both the departments gets every sport coach on the same page by updating an athlete's physical status and the modifications needed in their training program. This format means that the athlete is less likely to hear contradictory information from overzealous but well-meaning sport coaches. It is incumbent that the athletic trainer and the strength and conditioning coach remove all gray areas for the athlete and the coaching staff.

During an athlete's rehabilitation, communication between the athletic trainer and strength coach is critical. Both the areas must be extremely efficient and organized because injured athletes usually have more demand placed on them such as doctor appointments and multiple rehab sessions on top of normal team workouts. As the athlete is mainstreamed into the weight room, I believe that athletic trainers should review the entire training program and have some input for all training prescriptions. In turn, athletic trainers need to keep the strength coaches abreast of calendar landmarks that call for changes in the training protocol. Both the parties should also review the rehab flow chart, so there is a clear understanding of the process, and no overtraining occurs.

Athletes with a modified practice status should be trained and conditioned during the session by a strength and conditioning coach. Meeting daily with the trainer to design acceptable exercise prescriptions is necessary to prevent physical setbacks. Although the strength and conditioning coach will implement the session, the athletic trainer should periodically check in and see how the athlete is progressing. At the end of each practice, the trainer and strength and conditioning coach should briefly discuss how the session went, what worked, and what did not.

Trent Greener

is the director of strength and conditioning and head football strength coach at the University of Wyoming.

The relationship between the Athletic Training Program and the Strength and Conditioning Program at Humboldt State University has always been a good one. I have heard horror stories about what goes on at some other places where both the entities seem to work against each other, but fortunately, I have never had to experience it. Our Athletic Training Program is very supportive of what we do in the weight room. Almost all of our student and graduate assistant trainers have been through the upper division kinesiology “strength and conditioning” course, which is taught by the strength and conditioning staff. Our job as strength coaches is certainly easier because the assistant trainers have a pretty thorough understanding of the physiology, principles, and mechanics of strength and conditioning. Many of these young trainers use the course as a “prep” for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist examination, which we host on a regular basis.

We only have 1 full-time certified athletic trainer who oversees a staff of graduate assistant and student assistant trainers. Our head trainer spends most of his time during the fall and winter seasons with the football and basketball programs. The graduate/student assistants are then assigned to the other sports. The training room is open for “drop-in” services during the afternoons and is otherwise scheduled around the team practice schedules. I get a weekly injury report for both the football and basketball programs. The strength staff also receives periodic updates from each of the other intercollegiate athletic team's assigned trainers. The weekly injury report is very detailed and includes recommendations for the strength and conditioning program. It is really nice having the ability to refer to the injury report when an athlete approaches you, worksheet in hand, and begins to explain what he/she can or cannot do. How many times over the years have I heard the phrase, “The Training Room says I can't do any weightlifting or squats today.” It is good for the strength and conditioning staff to have the ability to refer to the weekly injury report to verify if this is indeed the case.

The athletic training and strength and conditioning staffs also collaborate on the rehabilitation programs for injured athletes. The rehab aspect of our collective programs is the area that we are in most need of improvement. The athletes are often left in some gray area during their rehabilitation schedule because of the lack of availability of an already spread thin staff. Between both the staffs, we have attempted to establish a “director of reconditioning,” but our resources have not permitted it. Hopefully, this will be a possibility in the future, until then the strength and conditioning staff is responsible for modifying the current developmental programs.

I think the main reason for the cooperative relationship between the athletic training and strength and conditioning programs is that our head trainer is an avid weightlifter. Our athletes routinely see him and some of his staff members in the facility on a daily basis, and I am not just talking bench press and bicep curls. Our head trainer gets in the squat rack and on to the platforms. It certainly helps our cause when the training staff actively participates in the strength and conditioning program and understands from a practical, as well as from a scientific, aspect the benefit it has for the development and well being of our student athletes. I fear that this less than ideal situation may even be short lived as the university, in the midst of these difficult economic times, has decided to discontinue the athletic training option of the kinesiology major. Our head trainer, already spread out with the responsibilities of his position, will be faced with the burden of continuing a service to the student athletes with much of his student and graduate assistant help eliminated.

Drew Petersen

is the head strength and conditioning coach at Humboldt State University.

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© 2011 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association