There is no doubt that this current economic climate is tough. Administrators, Boards of Directors, CEOs and Presidents across the country are having to make tough financial decisions to streamline costs and maximize revenue. For the profession of athletic training, school boards and administrators are often taking a hard look at the athletic training position.
An article from CA piqued my curiosity when I read the headline “Audience Angry Over COS Athletic Training Decision.” This situation at the College of the Siskiyous is not unique. I personally know of 3 instances of the same exact decision being made at 3 high schools within a few miles of me just within the last year. In all of these cases, a good AT lost their job and were replaced by a cheaper model. In the 3 cases in my area, the full-time AT position was eliminated and an outside company was contracted to provide AT services. In the linked article, the college president is referenced as saying:
COS president Randy Lawrence said the goal of the layoff is not to eliminate the athletic training program, but instead to offer athletic training services in a different, more cost efficient way.
Further along in the article, more of the financial aspects are explored.
According to the resolution’s text, Paddack will retain a 175-day faculty position that will include an instructional load and may include some reassigned time to do athletic training services. This move will mean a salary savings of $9,398, the resolution states.
I am confident that there are many Secondary School and Collegiate ATs who are facing similar battles for their positions. I was told 1 year ago that my position might be reviewed this year due to the financial crisis facing public schools in PA. So this battle is personal. I ended up asking myself for over a year “Why am I worth more to the school board than the AT coming in from an outside contract?” I couldn’t focus on my credentials because the outside contract would require an ATC. I couldn’t focus on my formal education for the same reason. I began to realize it was experience that I needed to focus on.
Becoming a Master/Outlier
In his book “Outliers: The Story of Success“, Malcom Gladwell proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to be successful in a specific task. If you work an average of 40 hours a week for 50 weeks per year, it would take you 5 years to become successful. In the athletic training world, 40 hour weeks are uncommon, but so are 50 weeks a year. I have tracked my hours at the high school for the past 3 years and I worked an average of 45 hours per week for 40-42 weeks during the school year and an additional 25 hours per week during the 9-10 week summer break. I accrued abut 2,000 hours over the course of the year. So, I can easily say that I have mastered the skill and tasks necessary to be a successful AT for my employer. I was prepared to fight for my job by exploring all the relationships and connections I have built over the past 11 years at my school and showing that a new AT wouldn’t have those skills. Further, it would take a full 5 years for the new AT to build those skills and in all likelihood, there would be a high turnover rate with the outside contract.
(Sidenote: The clinic/AT model is a good model for many situations. I am in no way downgrading the great ATs who work in this setting. But statistically, this setting has the lowest salary, fewest years of experience and the highest turnover rate of all the settings within athletic training. I started in the clinical setting and enjoyed the professional development there, but I have been blessed to move on to a more stable, higher paying setting. Most new ATs start at the clinic and quickly move on to another position or even profession due to the low pay and the instability.)
Prove your Worth
The key to answering the headline question “Are you a financial asset or liability” is to be proactive, not reactive. Here is a list of ideas to help you be proactive and involved in stabilizing your current position:
- Build solid, professional relationships with administration. I meet weekly with the AD for about 30 minutes to update him on injuries, parents, coaches, etc. We bounce ideas off each other, etc.
- Build professional relationships with coaches. Too many ATs have adversarial relationships with coaches often because the AT feels the coach is invading their turf. I welcome every coach into the training room and they know they can come talk to me about any athlete any time. After all, the coach and the AT have the same goal – to see every athlete perform their best. Invite the coach to be part of the team. Their input can be valuable.
- Treat every single athlete with care. Do you view your job as medically treating athletic injuries or is your philosophy to care for athletes?
- Talk with parents. Build those relationships with parents even before the athletes are injured. Our school has parent meetings at the beginning of every season. I address the parents and tell them I hope I don’t have to call you during the year because when I do, it is because your son/daughter is injured.
- Go to extra-curricular activities. I enjoy going to commencement, the after prom alt. party we provide at school, concerts, musicals, etc. to watch the student athletes perform something other than athletics. I am always amazed at the talent some of these young people have and it gives me something else to build a relational bridge to these students. Plus, this isn’t a chore it is awesome fun!
- Gather statistics. Show your administration at regular intervals how many athletes are in season (healthy and injured). Show how many people you are treating in a day, a week and a season. Show how many are going to the doctor and how many you are able to treat on your own.
- Be professional. Always dress and carry yourself with professionalism. You never know who is watching so demand that you reach a high standard of conduct, conversation and dress.
- Always improve. You will make mistakes. Learn from them. Give and take constructive criticism. Be a better AT next year than you were this year.
Athletic training is a tough profession. Not everyone is cut out for the hours of thankless toil behind the scenes. But if you can find a position where you can make a positive impact on people’s lives, it is rewarding. Become an asset to your employer by building relationships and impacting people with your care.