Jul 26, 2017
A Delicate Balance
Mike Matheny

“The coach of the team I work with doesn’t tell me about practice changes until the last minute.”

“The coach of the team I work with doesn’t support what I tell the athletes regarding what they can or can’t do.”

These are fairly common complaints I have heard from my three graduate assistant athletic trainer positions over the years. Conversely, I hear these similar complaints from coaches of the teams the graduate assistants work with:

“The athletic trainer doesn’t let me know who’s out or can only do part of practice until right as we’re going on the field.”

“It’s not always clear what the athletic trainer will let the athlete do during practice.”

I think this is a great opportunity to force the young professional to work the problem out with the coach. However, prior to them attempting this, I think it’s valuable to offer some guidance.

Obviously, these are two sides of the same problem. As the head athletic trainer, it falls to me to correct the issue to the satisfaction of both parties. Since they really want the same thing, it’s typically not the most difficult problem I’ll encounter over the course of an academic year, but it’s still one that needs my prompt attention to prevent it from escalating.

My graduate assistants are typically very young professionals, either right out of an undergraduate program and newly certified or with one or two years’ experience at an entry-level job. While their level of clinical expertise is usually pretty solid, I often find they lack the ability to foresee problems and be proactive to avoid them. Here’s where I find it useful to offer suggestions but not immediately call a meeting of the coach, graduate assistant, and myself. I think this is a great opportunity to force the young professional to work the problem out with the coach. However, prior to them attempting this, I think it’s valuable to offer some guidance.

Begin by identifying the problem. In the above example, the problem is clearly one of communication, with both sides frustrated by the other’s perceived inability or unwillingness to provide timely and clear information.

Next, offer a way to resolve the problem. Again, I think it’s important to give the new athletic trainer an opportunity to work this out on their own, but some guidance is probably necessary.

In the above example, I would suggest that the new athletic trainer meet with the coach and come up with a strategy for more effective communication that works for both parties. The possibilities are numerous, and the coach and athletic trainer should choose one or two strategies that work for them, based around factors such as availability (my graduate assistants take classes during the day, so they are not always available to a coach or to athletes, and many of our coaches teach or have administrative responsibilities), proximity (we have three different buildings that house coaches’ offices and a fourth where the graduate assistant office is located), and access to different types of communication. Maybe a quick daily meeting an hour before practice, text updates during the day, or an emailed injury report sent to the head and assistant coaches within a certain time frame each day can improve communication. The important thing is that the new athletic trainer and coach meet and together formulate a strategy that they are both comfortable with.

Hopefully, by taking the lead on this, the new athletic trainer will solve the communication problem. But they will also be seen by the coach as a young professional who recognizes and acknowledges a problem, confronts it, and offers solutions to resolve it.

Mike Matheny, MS, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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