Jan 11, 2019
Athletic training lessons: Advice for my younger self
By Larry Cooper

Since retiring, I have been asked several times to reflect on my career as a teacher and athletic trainer, prodded for my most memorable moment, and questioned about what I will miss the most.

Today, I was asked to give advice to my younger self. In other words, if I could turn back time and give myself advice as a new athletic trainer, what would it be? I can honestly say this is the most difficult blog that I have done for myriad reasons. After much contemplation, here are the nine tips I can share.

1. While you are in college, try to spend as much time with your mentors, professors, and supervising athletic trainers as possible. Every athletic trainer who I have been around has been willing to share their experiences, knowledge, and passion for free. This is something that you just cannot miss out on.

2. Make sure that you spend quality time with your school/team physician. This is a relationship that you need to develop. It is the most important professional bond that you can cultivate. Don’t always make it about your jobs either — make it personal, make a connection, make it a friendship.

3. Don’t forget to laugh — often and hard. There will be so many situations that you will be immersed in that the only thing you can do is laugh. It does the body good, it relieves stress, and it helps you to keep a clear mind.

4. Don’t get mad when people — whether it is parents, coaches, athletes or friends — don’t take your advice. They sought out your guidance, so look at the situation as another opportunity to show your skill set, share your knowledge, and use your connections. It will not take long until they understand you and your job and the value you bring to the team, the friendship, the school, or the community.

5. You don’t need to be at work every day, all day. Set clear hours of operation for your athletic training facility — you’ll be happy you did. No one else walks in your shoes, and usually the coaches have their own schedules to follow. Let’s be realistic, they really don’t care about how many hours you work as long as you are there with their team.

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If you set your hours of operation and stick with them, the parents, coaches, and athletes will be less likely to take advantage of your kind nature. This will also bring some clarity to your life and schedule and help with the life/work balance that we all need and seek.

6. It is okay to not know something. Don’t be afraid to say, “Let me look into this, and we will talk tomorrow.” You are not a computer and should not be expected to be aware of every musculoskeletal injury or illness known to mankind. Plus, this is another way to show that you are human and care about the athletes.

7. Realize that you will make mistakes and you might not be 100% accurate on your evaluations, and that is okay. That is the only way you can grow and learn. This situation is an opportunity to better understand the human body and the reactions to stress and trauma. It’s only a mistake if you don’t benefit from it.

8. Some people might try and share their thoughts with you. They might not have any medical background at all, but they have their opinion. They might even tell you how tough someone is or isn’t. Opinions are a dime a dozen. Just remember that only Superman has X-Ray vision the last time I checked.

9. Don’t let an older individual try and use their age or experience to try and change your mind about something. Learn from the very beginning to hold your ground, trust your education, and don’t be bullied.

In conclusion, communicate, be yourself, trust the process, be compassionate, and laugh. Enjoy your job because you are making a difference.

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, recently retired after 27 years as Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also taught health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers' Society Hall of Fame in 2014.

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