Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award

January 29, 2015
Nominations for the inaugural Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award were plentiful and impressive. But one athletic trainer rose above the rest.
By R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: rja@MomentumMedia.com.


The Greater Houston Athletic Trainers' Society (GHATS) puts on an athletic training student workshop every year, and it was Andy Dekaney High School's turn to host it two years ago. Head Athletic Trainer Thomas Woods, MS, MEd, LAT, ATC, wanted to do something exciting for the students and had the idea to get one or two members of a helicopter medical crew to give a presentation.

As many athletic trainers in Houston do when they have a question, problem, or new idea, Woods turned to Bob Marley, MA, ATC, LAT, CSCS, Senior Outreach Athletic Trainer in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Marley sits on the GHATS Advisory Council and more importantly to Woods, he is someone who will take a suggestion and run with it.

"When I told Bob my idea, he smiled and said, 'Let me see what I can do,'" says Woods. "Not only did the whole crew show up, they came in a Life Flight helicopter, landing it at the school, which really wowed the kids and was much more than I expected. But if anybody could get something like that done, it's Bob."

For Marley, it's all in a day's work. His passion for athletic training has led him to be a leader among his peers, a trusted professional among every student-athlete and coach he works with, and a steward for the profession. Known as an approachable and unassuming athletic trainer, he has fashioned a career out of going the extra mile for his athletes, coaches, and colleagues. For those reasons and more, Training & Conditioning is proud to present Robert "Bob" Marley with our 2013 Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, sponsored by Sports Health.

"No matter what role he's filling, or where he's working, Bob just makes things happen," says Woods, who nominated Marley for the award. "He is a consummate professional who wins people over with a disarming charm and an ability to connect with them interpersonally. If you met him for the first time, you'd think, 'This is a great guy.'

"I have never heard anyone say a negative thing about Bob and I've never heard him say anything derogatory about anyone else," Woods continues. "He's very positive in his approach and that manner is infectious."

Woods, who is an NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer and member of the Southwest Athletic Trainers' Association (SWATA) Hall of Fame, has known Marley for more than 30 years. "I've worked with the NATA and SWATA for a long time, and everything Bob does stacks up with what I've seen from the best leaders in those organizations," says Woods. "However, he doesn't stand in front of the cameras with his chest out--he works behind the scenes to advance and promote our profession."

As part of his day job with UTHealth, Marley travels 900 to 1,000 miles a week, providing sports medicine services to 22 school districts in 10 counties. It is the only access most of the rural schools have to a sports medicine professional. In addition to his hands-on work, Marley develops professional and community education seminars, provides medical coverage for special events, and assists UTHealth's Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute Outreach Program.

Since 1989, Marley has also been a contract Athletic Trainer for Needville (Texas) High School, where he provides daily athletic training services and covers most home athletic contests, as well as all football games. In addition, he oversees the school's student athletic training program--which he started his first year there--and instructs the coaching staff in CPR, AED, and First Aid certifications.

"Bob goes above and beyond with everything he does here," says Needville Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jamie Valentine. "He is by far the hardest working person I know. I have no idea how he balances everything and is still able to positively affect so many people each and every day.

"Even though we keep him extremely busy throughout the year, he still finds time to develop positive relationships with our athletes, coaches, district employees, and the entire community," Valentine continues. "There are not many phones in our district that do not have Bob's number on speed dial."

Valentine says that Marley's knowledge of injuries and rehab is second to none and he always puts the athletes first. "It amazes me that Bob can know exactly what is wrong and how to fix it with just a couple of questions and a few simple tests," he says. "And it's not unusual to see him perform rehab on some of our injured athletes while getting paperwork ready for game workers and officials. On top of that, he always makes time for anyone from our community or staff who has a question or minor injury that needs attention. And of course, he's constantly taping and stretching athletes as they trickle into the athletic training room."

Marley has also had a big impact on Needville's future generations of athletic trainers. "Our student athletic training program has grown to be one of the best, if not the best, in the entire state," Valentine says. "Bob is a tremendous mentor and teacher, which has led to several of our athletic training students choosing athletic training as their college major and career."

Marley's athletic training expertise expands beyond the many high schools he serves. On Sundays in the fall, you can find him working the sidelines for the NFL's Houston Texans, providing athletic training support during home games and certain away games. He also works the team's preseason training and mini camps.

Somehow, Marley finds time to be an Adjunct Professor and Co-Coordinator of the Athletic Training Education Program at Houston Baptist University, where he began his athletic training career in 1982 after graduating from Michigan State University with a master's degree in physical education and a specialization in sports medicine. He spent seven years at HBU, leaving as the school's Head Athletic Trainer in 1989 when it chose to de-emphasize athletics and leave NCAA Division I. Since 2002, Marley has also taught courses in HBU's School of Nursing and Allied Health.

With so many roles and responsibilities in the Houston area, Marley's weekly schedule is a geographical puzzle, but that's how he likes it. "When you have a passion for something it's easier to be organized," he says. "If I didn't love what I'm doing, I probably wouldn't be as motivated to keep on top of everything. Plus, the variety is one of my favorite aspects of this job--no two days are ever the same."

When it comes to prioritizing his duties, Marley organizes each day around his responsibilities to UTHealth. "Every morning, I leave my house at about 6:30, travel to a handful of high schools, and hold mini clinics to evaluate injuries," says Marley, who visits each school once a week and occasionally provides game coverage when it fits his schedule. "If an athlete is injured, I schedule an appointment for them to see one of our doctors. If that athlete has already seen one, I'll provide follow-up care and let the doctor know how that athlete is doing. If they don't need to see a doctor, I'll get them started on a rehab protocol.

"It's neat because those mini clinics have grown over the years to where players' families, the school's staff, and even guys who work at the grain elevator down the street will come in for an evaluation if they're hurt," Marley adds. "It's become more than just a high school outreach program. It's now more of a community outreach program."

Because his on-site time is so limited, Marley encourages coaches to call him anytime they have questions or concerns, and he has created pamphlets that help coaches assess common injuries and provide initial care. "When I started working with the rural schools, I realized I kept telling coaches the same things over and over," he says. "So I came up with a couple of booklets that provide information on certain topics. They cover everything from hamstring and quad strains to criteria for pulling an athlete out of an activity. I tried to make things very basic by including clear diagrams and concise descriptions for best practices."

Every day Marley also works in a trip to Needville, either in the morning or afternoon depending on his driving itinerary and the schools' game schedules. "It's not unusual for me to cover a contest at one school on Thursday night, be at Needville on Friday, then cover another game at another school on Saturday."

And that workload is only the start of how Marley helps others. He strongly believes in the power of connecting people, and in his 30-plus years as an athletic trainer in the Houston area, he has accumulated a sizable digital Rolodex that he uses to share information, help colleagues find jobs, and more.

Many of his contacts are organized into e-mail lists. One includes 725 names and caters to athletic trainers in Southeast Texas while another includes about 500 athletic trainers in and around the Houston area. He also has a list of high school and college coaches in the greater Houston area (Marley is a member of the Texas High School Coaches Association and the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association, serving on its Executive Board of Directors since 2003) that he uses to disseminate information about sports medicine issues and new practices.

"With the athletic trainer lists, if somebody tells me they're looking for an athletic trainer for an event or they have a job opening, I forward it to my list," Marley says. "Or, if a certain athletic trainer is looking for a job and I'm alerted to an opening, I can recommend that person right away."

Marley also works tirelessly on sharing information in a more formal way by hosting or presenting at educational seminars. One such endeavor is UTHealth's annual "Updates in Sports Medicine Symposium," a two-day event in June featuring a who's who of local speakers that Marley hosts at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. For $150, attendees are able to satisfy some of their athletic training certification CEU requirements while enjoying presentations that profile the latest innovations and information related to sports health issues.

"It's not a big fancy event with a ton of bells and whistles, but athletic trainers and physical therapists can come in and hear from the professionals who take care of the Texans, the Rockets, the Astros, the University of Houston, and HBU," says Marley, who estimates that more than 225 people attend the event each year. "Today, many continuing education opportunities are very expensive, so we try to present this one at cost. The Astros have been so good to us about keeping their fees down and all of the speakers volunteer their time for free."

A huge motivating factor for Marley is his dedication to giving back. "Sometimes, I don't think veteran athletic trainers realize how much we can help our younger colleagues," he says. "My mentors, guys like [NATA Hall of Famer] Bobby Gunn and [SWATA Hall of Famer] Allen Eggert all helped me find my way when I was young and it meant the world to me. I guess I'm trying to do the same for the younger men and women on their way up. I take great pride in helping them find their niche.

"Any time an athletic trainer who is new to the area or the profession asks me for advice, I try to go out of my way to get them an answer as soon as I can," Marley continues. "I was really impressed when somebody would take the time to help me when I was young. Now, I'm just trying to pay it forward."

While he enjoys his work with GHATS, SWATA, and the various other professional organizations he contributes to, Marley says the most rewarding elements of his job center on his work with young athletes and the impact he's able to make on their lives. "For example, the other day I walked into a grocery store in one of the little towns I work in, and a young man who had graduated a few years earlier saw me and immediately came over. He thanked me for helping him overcome a knee injury when he was in high school," says Marley. "He told me he was doing well, that he had gone on to play junior college baseball, and that he appreciated everything I had done to help him get back on the field. When somebody remembers you and goes out of their way just to say thanks, it's a great feeling."

From being a fantastic hands-on healthcare provider to a leader and advisor among his peers, what drives Marley to do it all? "I have a hard time saying no," he says. "I feel like if I quit something or turn down a request, I'd be letting someone down. Plus, doing all of the things I'm involved with makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger, which is what I think everyone wants."

With two grown children and a granddaughter, Marley says he never would have been able to maintain a career in athletic training without the patience, understanding, and complete support of his family, especially his wife. "If they had been demanding and inflexible, there's no way I could have made it in this profession," he says. "I also have tried to include my family in as many work opportunities as I can--it's always better when they're around. And when I'm home, I make sure my focus is on spending time together."

Marley says he lives by a mantra of: Work hard, take pride in your work, and do the right thing. "I think it's all about the golden rule--treat people the way you want to be treated," he says. "And if you tell somebody you're going to do something, then do it. Dropping the ball leaves a lasting impression."

When it comes to lasting impressions, Woods says the positive imprint Marley leaves is longer than the Texas highways he travels every day. "Some people say and do little while others say and do only what is required," Woods says. "Then there is the rare individual like Bob Marley who says and does more than you could hope or expect. I consider myself blessed to have him as a friend and colleague and I am proud that our profession has people like him leading the way."