Jan 29, 2015
Back From Beijing

By Kyle Garratt

David Andrews, ATC, Athletic Trainer at Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School and Northwest Sports Physical Therapy, is back in Washington after spending the summer in Beijing as the Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. men’s Olympic soccer team. In this interview, Andrews talks about preparing for the Olympics, making tough choices, and the difference between working with high school and Olympic athletes.

Andrews has worked with United States soccer for 18 years and the U.S. Olympic Committee for 12 years. In short, he has paid his dues, and it culminated this summer when he was asked to serve as Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team at the Olympics. Andrews previously served as an athletic trainer for the team at various tournaments over the past 18 years and was an Assistant Athletic Trainer when the team competed at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.

T&C: How did you end up serving as the head athletic trainer for the U.S. men’s soccer team?

Andrews: I got involved with the U.S. Olympic Committee medical team 12 years ago when I volunteered for two weeks at the Olympic training center. I spent many years working with the national youth soccer team, and served as an athletic trainer in the qualifying rounds for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic teams. I would have been the Head Athletic Trainer for the 2004 Olympics had the team qualified. I also worked with the men’s soccer team at the Pan-American games in 2007, and this February, I was asked to be the Head Athletic Trainer for the men’s soccer team in the Olympics.

How much contact did you have with the players before Beijing?

Our team wasn’t even picked until about two weeks before the games, so in the months leading up to our departure, I had to communicate with a group of about 60 prospective players and monitor their health. I had to determine if there were any injury risks that could keep a player from being picked, and I gave my medical recommendations to Head Coach Peter Novak.

How did you prepare for this role?

I have worked with U.S. Soccer for 18 years, so for me, it was just another big trip. I’ve done events larger than this like the World Cup, so I kind of knew what to expect. One of my duties was to make sure that the medical equipment was in place and that I could help those athletes be successful. The process of ordering medical supplies took about six months of planning because we had to plan for going to the finals.

How strenuous was the workload in China?

It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in terms of logistics and time management. I worked 18 hours a day, so rarely did I have much time away from my athletic training room or treatment of the players. It was just a physical therapist and myself–we had two guys caring for 19 players.

Who supervised you during the Olympics?

On a daily basis I communicated with the United States Olympic Committee medical director and the chief medical officer on injuries, treatment progress, and training regimes. Everything I did went through the USOC Medical Department.

How stringent was the drug testing during the Olympics?

Before leaving for the games, we talked to each player about what the could and could not take. We had to get them all on supplement regimens approved by the USOC. And any medication they were taking–anti-inflammatories or anything else–had to be documented and given to the drug company that tested them.

During the games, two random players were pulled in and tested after every game. We were also tested randomly at practices and even at the hotel.

How much do the Olympics differ from working on the high school level?

It’s just a grander scale. I’ve made a commitment medically and philosophically not to change whether I work with a high school athlete or a world-class athlete. The high visibility of the Olympics puts more pressure on you, and the treatment schedule might be a little bit more specific, but it’s virtually the same.

Was there an injury that was especially challenging?

The biggest challenge was that we had a couple guys come in with injuries and we had to decide whether they were healthy enough to help this team. It’s a complicated and difficult process to decide to release a player because of injury. It’s a life-long dream to go to the Olympics. Unfortunately that happened to us early because defender/midfielder Nathan Sturgis, who had played so well in qualifying games, was coming off a hamstring strain. We had to decide if he could help get us through the games, and we determined he couldn’t. The most difficult thing was to see this guy who worked his whole career to get there and wasn’t able to attend even though he was selected. It was just unlucky, but that’s just how athletics is. Timing and health have to line up just right.

What advice do you have for athletic trainers who want to work at the Olympic level?

It’s a process, and it’s a way of life. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good trainer if you’re not working at this level. Just keep doing what you’re doing and try to get better everyday in your care for athletes. Athletes can see that, and a lot of them will pull you along if you’re worthy of being pulled.

What did you enjoy most about your Olympic experience?

The interaction with all the other American athletes in the Olympic village and the camaraderie. Anywhere you walked, if you had a U.S. shirt on, other U.S. athletes would stop to you and say, “What sport are you in? What are you doing? How’s it going?” The games and the atmosphere at events like this make everything worthwhile. To know that you had a part in helping the athletes succeed is a great feeling. As a medical guy, that’s what you work for.

Kyle Garratt is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. E-mail him at [email protected].

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