Aug 31, 2017
Building a Bond
Mike Matheny

As a graduate student at the University of Arizona many years ago, I was fortunate to learn from NATA Hall of Famer Gary Delforge, EdD, ATC. One of the many lessons he passed on to us — and one of the things that I have always tried to put into practice — was his advice regarding our relationships with coaches. “Don’t be the athletic trainer who only interacts with a coach when you have bad news for them,” was his salient advice. As he put it, “How happy is that coach going to be to see you when every time they do, you are giving them bad news about one of their players?”

His advice was geared to developing a relationship with coaches that was about more than just the daily injury report. Let’s take a look at some strategies for doing so:

Communicate injury and practice status information regularly and often: In person is always best, but with varying schedules, locations, and availability, sometimes in person is not always possible. Fortunately, we now have multiple options of communication available, and it’s just a matter of determining which works best for you and the coach. E-mail or text messaging can work, and I often use both for injury updates — I’ll send a written injury report daily to coaches who are normally in a different building than I am, and then text any late updates prior to the start of practice. Coaches tend to dislike surprises — particularly last-minute ones that mess up a carefully planned practice — so the sooner they have injury information, the better.

Connect on something other than injury and practice status: Given your professions, chances are pretty good that you’re both sports fans. Yankees or Red Sox? Michigan or Ohio State? Jordan or LeBron?

Does the coach have kids of their own? Everyone likes to talk about their kids, so ask a few questions and let them roll with it.

What about recruiting? Good year? Bad year? Did they get their top recruit this year? If not, where did that kid decide to go and why?

How about the local scene in general? Good restaurants? Good local music venues? New craft brewery? All of these topics and many others can spark a quick conversation that helps you establish a relationship that is about something other than their injured players and helps you to see each other in a different light.

Ask about hobbies that you both might have an interest in: Because I’ve taken the time to ask coaches about what they like to do away from the job, I’ve skied, camped, fished, bicycled, run, and played racquet sports with coaches or groups of coaches. There’s nothing like a summer fishing trip or hard workout with a group of co-workers to let you see each other’s human side.

Using any of these strategies can make it much easier the next time you have to have a difficult conversation with a coach about why a particular player isn’t available. You may also gain some insights into the particular pressures or stresses that a coach is experiencing and be better able to understand why they might react poorly to bad news. Their poor reaction doesn’t have to be directed at you, and if you’ve spent some time establishing a relationship beforehand, chances are it won’t.

Image by Sgt. Fred Brown

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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