Skill Set – Experience

6 Feb

The typical athletic trainer has a diverse skill set that they constantly develop.  This series of blog entries will seek to focus on the skill set that most athletic trainers possess in order to effectively do their job in the traditional setting.  Collectively, this skill set makes the AT a very valuable and unique resource to the athletes, coaches and administration that they serve.


February is an anniversary for me.  I passed the BOC test in February, 1995.  So, I have been an AT for 17 years now.  I remember thinking when I passed that test and got that packet with the ATC credential that I had arrived.  That I had all the skills necessary to be an AT for all athletes.  I was ready to take on anything and anyone with my expertise and had the credential to show it.

Then, I got my first job as an AT at a local public school through a clinic.  I was so excited my first day until that afternoon.  In the 2nd practice, a freshman football player was blasted by an older experienced varsity football player and suffered a nasty compound fx of his right tib/fib.  Recognizing the injury wasn’t the problem, but I suddenly realized that I didn’t know what to do now.  Who was this athlete?  Who are the EMTs?  Who are the parents?  How do I call 911 and get them here fast?  What doctor will he see?  What insurance does he have?  I knew how to be an good health care provider for the fracture, I could even sympathize because I had broken the same ankle in 6th grade.  I hadn’t experienced the emotions, I hadn’t experienced a relationship with these athletes, coaches, parents, EMTs and MDs.  I had the skill, but not the experience to put the skills all together.

In this economy, colleges, high schools, clinics and hospitals are all looking at the bottom line and looking to cut costs.  One way to do it is to hire new, young, inexperienced, fresh-out-of-college professionals (not just ATs).  In my district, older, experienced teachers are being offered early retirement so that the school can fill their position with a new teacher and save a ton of money.  But that represents losing years and years of experience.  The school district may be saving money, but the students lose out.  There will be many kids who won’t be able to learn the subject matter as well with the new teacher.  That experienced teacher doesn’t have to focus on the subject matter; they can focus on the methods; they focus on the student/teacher relationship; they focus in identifying learning styles.  The experienced teacher is often worth the money because the experience provides much more value and worth.

An experienced and established AT for a school district provides so much more value to the employer.  The experience brings established relationships with administration, coaches, parents, booster clubs, area health care providers, athletes and students.  Experienced ATs often relate stories of people stopping them in the halls of school, in a store, dropping by their home, etc. to ask them their opinion on an injury.  Why?  Because the community knows that the AT knows their subject area.  The people have experienced the care of the AT and want to return.  When you are new, you get to establish that relationship.

There is a downside to this experience – cynicism.  I love the youthful enthusiasm that I witness in the Young Professional (YP).  They are ready, willing and able to do the extra, go the extra mile, with an zest for life.  I never want to lose that quality, but cynicism often rears its ugly side and beats me down.  I often find myself upset for having to go in on a Saturday to look at Johnny who hurt their knee the night before in the big game and wants me to look at it.  The YP would be all over that opportunity.  The cynic begrudges it because of past bad experiences.  Don’t let bad experiences dampen your enthusiasm and create a cynic.   Each opportunity is unrelated to the past, it is its own unique chance to promote the profession and provide great care to the athlete who needs your services.  I often get irritated that I am the only one in the building who seems to be able to apply a bandage to a finger.  But, if I look at it as a chance to provide a need and establish a relationship and connection with someone, then I will be better off in the future.

Experience can also bring the attitude that I know everything I need to know.  I have observed many older ATs who go to conferences and don’t act professionally towards the educational aspect of the program.  YPs seem to be the ones who are eager to learn and network.  I admire that quality in people.  Remember that old commercial on TV?  “It is as easy as A B C, never stop learning.”  My hope for myself is that I continue to learn and apply my knowledge to the athletes I get to work with every day.

If you are a YP, make sure that in 10 years you have something tangible to show for your experience.  You should be a better AT in 10 years than you are right now.  Constantly push yourself and never stop learning.

If you are a seasoned professional, make sure you renew and keep that youthful enthusiasm you had when you first started.  Don’t become a cynic.  Do become bitter towards your athletes and their “neediness”.  It is easy to treat people poorly because of past experiences with someone else.  Don’t fall into that pattern.  Constantly push yourself and never stop learning.


One Response to “Skill Set – Experience”

  1. Michael Hopper February 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Paul, excellent piece! I just passed my year mark and actually next week I will come up on one year at the high school that I’m at. You better believe I am a MUCH better AT now than I was this time last year. It’s a constant battle and you have to continue to improve.

    I think I would probably see athletes/patients 7 days a week if I lived in the town that I work. I would be almost always willing to go in and see those kids but the distance (25 miles) prevents me from offering that up.

    Always trying to learn something new…

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