The New Orleans Saints’ head athletic trainer always wanted to host a symposium to educate high school students about the profession. Getting the event off the ground was a team effort.
The following article appears in the October 2015 issue of Training & Conditioning.
By Scottie Patton
Scottie Patton, MA, ATC, is entering his 16th year as Head Athletic Trainer for the New Orleans Saints and 25th as an NFL athletic trainer, having previously worked for the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. He can be reached at: Scottie.Patton@saints.nfl.com.
In March of 2014, the New Orleans Saints welcomed more than 300 high school students into our facilities for a day. They weren’t here to meet players or get autographs. As a matter of fact, football wasn’t even the topic. Instead, they came to learn about the profession of athletic training as part of the Saints’ first annual High School Athletic Training Symposium.
The goal of the event was to introduce young people to what being an athletic trainer is all about, with topics ranging from educational requirements and employment opportunities to hands-on demonstrations of rehab modalities. Staffing the symposium with athletic trainers from every level of competition ensured many voices were heard and gave the attendees a fuller view of the profession.
Our first symposium was incredibly well-received, and we held a second one in March of 2015 that earned equally high praise. Behind both events’ success was a lot of planning, collaboration, and being flexible when things changed at the last minute. I’ll carry these learning experiences with me for future symposiums.
The seeds for the event were actually planted almost 20 years ago. At the time, I was an athletic trainer for the San Francisco 49ers, and I hosted a symposium for 20 to 30 kids at my old high school in North Carolina. We spent the day on football skill development and talked a little bit about athletic training.
In the years that followed, I kept trying to find ways to replicate that event on a larger scale, wanting to offer more structure and an increased emphasis on athletic training. A few years ago, I heard the athletic training department at High Point University was putting on an event to attract potential students. They invited high school students to campus, educated them about the profession, completed a few hands-on sessions, and then ended the day by attending a men’s basketball game.
This format seemed like a good model for me to adopt. I started brainstorming ways to make it work for my NFL setting, and I eventually landed on the idea for the High School Athletic Training Symposium.
When I approached the Saints’ front office about the idea, it gave me more than just approval. As an organization rooted deeply in community service, it quickly offered support and funding. This allowed me to make the symposium free to all students, which was huge for me, as I was concerned an admission cost would be a deterrent. We were also able to provide participants with meals, an educational manual, and a T-shirt. In addition, several team vendors and sponsors donated to the event, so we were able to give gift bags to every student.
An important decision I made at this point was to not involve any Saints players in the symposium. I wanted the event to be about the high school students and their interest in athletic training, and I felt that featuring players would draw individuals who cared more about collecting autographs than learning about the profession. Yes, we used the Saints organization as a platform to host the event, but the focus was on the students’ future careers, not the team.
Once I had the go-ahead from the Saints, I set about asking area athletic trainers to help staff the event. I wanted to ensure voices from various settings were on hand to provide insight, so I reached out to colleagues from the New Orleans Pelicans, Louisiana State University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Nicholls State University, and the Ochsner Sports Medicine Institute, which is affiliated with a local hospital. Everyone embraced the event, and they were excited to educate high school students about athletic training.
Many of the academic speakers lined up had college student athletic trainers who were interested in working the symposium, so we invited them along, too. Mainly, their role was to assist our speakers and instructors, but they also provided the high school students with a current athletic training student’s perspective.
After we figured out our staff, we needed to make sure we had attendees. We posted information about the symposium on the Saints’ various social media platforms, and students could sign up on the team’s website. The event was marketed mostly to high school students because we felt that’s where we could make the biggest impact, but we also accepted college students.
Going into our first year, we estimated roughly 75 students would sign up. That changed quickly. Within a couple of weeks, we had more than 300 students registered. We knew we would get sign-ups from local high schools, but we were amazed to see registrants from as far away as Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Utah.
Since we had many more sign-ups than we anticipated, we decided to split the students into two groups. Local students would attend a morning session from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., while students with a greater distance to travel could attend a later program, which went from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
As part of the registration process, students completed a survey that gauged their interest in science, medicine, and sports. It revealed that the majority of attendees were familiar with athletic training, but we also had some students who didn’t know what it was at all. We used this information to tailor the symposium’s curriculum accordingly.
Our final preparation was to design the program. Through many meetings and email exchanges with various Saints departments, such as our strength and conditioning coaches, physicians, community and youth programs staff, media relations team, and IT professionals, we put together a plan for the day. We decided to start the symposium with an educational lecture and then split the students into three hands-on sessions where they could learn rehab strategies, interact with different therapeutic modalities, and get a look at various taping techniques.
The goal was to make the programming both educational and fun. We told all the presenters to make their sessions instructional without overwhelming the students with too much information. Making sessions interactive, whenever possible, was the name of the game.
UP & RUNNING
When the students arrived at the symposium, they were given nametags and a manual, which contained details on the history of athletic training, the certification process, educational requirements, and job settings. It also provided information about the NATA and Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society.
Many students came with members of their high school sports medicine class and their supervising athletic trainer, who accompanied their students throughout the symposium. However, to keep the group a reasonable size, parents were only permitted to attend the closing assembly.
I kicked off the event in our team meeting room with a brief introduction, discussing the goals of the day and providing an overview of the profession. Then, we dove into the educational component of the symposium with a series of presentations.
Along with explaining one aspect of sports medicine, each speaker shared the path that led them to the industry, as well as what their jobs entail on a daily basis. For example, an athletic trainer from Ochsner Sports Medicine talked about the clinical setting and what it was like to provide outreach athletic training to local colleges and high schools. The New Orleans Pelicans’ head athletic trainer and I described working on the professional side of sports.
One of the Saints’ team physicians gave a talk on concussions and orthopedic injuries. He explained what a concussion is, how it is diagnosed and managed, and put one of the students through the concussion assessment program we use on our players. He also shared some light medical terminology and discussed commonly seen injuries in football.
In addition, the directors of athletic training education programs from the Louisiana universities presented on the college experience. The educators were able to provide valuable information on academic requirements, an outline of an athletic training education program, and a year-by-year breakdown of the curriculum.
The students were very engaged throughout, and I was pleased to see them ask so many questions. We made sure to include the speakers’ contact information in the students’ manuals so they could follow up after the event.
We knew going into the symposium that we couldn’t just talk at a room of 150 high school students all day and expect them to enjoy it. So after the educational session, the students had a break for lunch, and then we got them moving with a tour of our facilities.
The first—and probably most popular—stop was the team museum, where our Super Bowl XLIV trophy is on display. The students all got to take pictures with the trophy.
We hit our players’ locker room and athletic training room next, where we showed the students all the items utilized in maintaining the health and welfare of Saints players, including our Hydroworx rehab pool and Biodex rehabilitation devices. Students then visited the practice fields, and we wrapped up the tour with a trip to our weightroom. Here, students spoke with members of our strength and conditioning staff and learned how they work with athletic trainers when players have lifting restrictions due to injury.
After the tour, we split the students into groups and rotated them through our three breakout sessions, which consisted of a rehabilitation lab, modalities lab, and a taping education and demonstration lab. The rehabilitation lab took place in our athletic training room and introduced students to various rehab devices and techniques. The instructors demonstrated the use of Theraband in ankle rehabs and showed the students how to use certain tools to build shoulder and knee strength. Everyone got a chance to try out the equipment, and they particularly liked using the balance and proprioception tools.
In the modalities lab, the instructors explained the how’s and why’s of electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, and hot/cold treatments. A fun part of this lab was seeing the students receive e-stim. We did it on their forearms, so it was nice and gentle, but they could still feel the electrical current and see their muscles contract.
Lastly, students were further divided into groups of three or four for the taping lab. Each group was assigned to a station with an instructor, where the students got a fast-track lesson in basic ankle, wrist, and thumb taping. They were first shown the technique and then had to put what they learned to the test by taping a partner’s ankle.
I think the students enjoyed the taping lab the most because it gave them the chance to see a physical result from the day’s education. Some of their tape jobs could definitely use a little work, but no one’s feet turned purple, so I thought it was a great success.
Once all the labs were completed, everybody came back together for a closing assembly. I thanked everyone who attended, and we gave a big round of applause to the athletic trainers who volunteered their time. To end the symposium with a bang, we held drawings for various items, including athletic training fanny packs, autographed footballs, and New Orleans Pelicans tickets.
LEARNING & GROWING
Much of our itinerary for the symposium stayed the same from year one to year two. However, we did make some tweaks based on lessons learned.
For starters, we took a new approach to solidifying our attendance numbers. The interest for our second symposium was even greater than the first year, with more than 400 registrants. We capped attendance at 300, but that meant we had 100 students on a waiting list.
No-shows were an issue at our first symposium, and we wanted to minimize them as much as possible for the second event. So we placed follow-up calls and sent emails to registered students a few weeks before the symposium to confirm their attendance. Any time someone indicated they wouldn’t be able to make it, we were able to bump a student off our waiting list and into the program.
We also experimented with ways to better communicate with a large group. In the event capacity exceeded our main team meeting room, we developed a live-streaming video feed that ran into a second room. It provided a great opportunity to work together with our IT department and video staff and just goes to show how dedicated the Saints organization was to making the symposium a success. We didn’t end up needing to use the streaming system for the 2015 symposium, but it’s a great tool to have for the future.
Another bug we worked out the second year was not double-booking our instructors. When we were initially expecting fewer than 100 students, I scheduled the instructors to speak at our educational session in the morning and then participate in our hands-on demonstrations in the afternoon. But since we had to break the students into two groups, the instructors were booked to speak at the afternoon group’s educational session at the same time the morning group was headed to their labs.
Fortunately, we had enough volunteers the first year to cover the labs, so the instructors were able to attend the educational sessions. For year two, we told them to just focus on the educational sessions, and they were invited to stop by the labs if they had time.
One of my ideas for future symposiums is to make them two-day events. This will allow us to expand upon the information presented in the lectures, breakout sessions, and labs. I’m still figuring out the logistics of hotels and overnight stays, but it’s something I’d love to do down the road. I can also envision a separate symposium for the large numbers of college athletic training students who attended both events. (See “College-Level Course” below.)
Overall, our first two symposiums went very well, and I believe we achieved our goal of educating high school students about the athletic training profession. With luck, these curious, engaged high school students will turn into the next generation of dedicated, passionate athletic trainers.
Sidebar: COLLEGE-LEVEL COURSE
When we sent out information about the first New Orleans Saints’ High School Athletic Training Symposium in 2014, I was surprised by the number of college student athletic trainers who expressed an interest in attending. We welcomed them and decided to enhance their experience by creating a more advanced curriculum than the high schoolers’. We developed a few college student breakout sessions for the symposium and held them separately from the high school labs.
Instead of presenting an introduction to rehab, modalities, and taping, the college students went through a series of case studies on several different types of injuries. Each one provided a description of the injury and the return-to-play process, covering all the rehab steps in between. These sessions focused on performing an assessment, rehab protocols, and authorizing a return to competition.
We got a lot of positive feedback from the college student attendees. When the second symposium came around, we had an even higher number sign up. Therefore, we increased and improved the college track for year two by discussing current trends and popular tools in athletic training, such as Kinesio tape, active release therapy, and laser therapy.
Sidebar: A DIVERSE POOL
A partner in hosting the New Orleans Saints’ High School Athletic Training Symposium was the NATA’s Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee. Together, we used the event to not only reach out to future athletic trainers, but also to those segments of our population under-represented in athletic training.
We contacted area high schools that had large populations of minority students, and their response was tremendous. As a result, a diverse pool of students was represented at the symposium. There were some from rural schools, as well as city schools, and it was great to see them interact.
To continue these efforts at future symposiums, we plan to add informational sessions on the importance of ethnic diversity in athletic training. We’re also going to discuss topics that impact the minority athlete, such as sickle cell trait and sudden death syndromes.