Mar 14, 2017
First Impression
Mike Matheny

Your institution has hired a new head coach. Whether through retirement or the classic “We want to thank Coach So-and-So for his or her hard work and fine leadership, but we felt it was time to move in a different direction,” the previous coach is gone, and a new person is now occupying that office. As the athletic trainer with that sport, how can you make the transition as smooth as possible for both yourself and the new coach?

The key is good communication early on. While the new coach probably has many people to meet with once they get to campus, a meeting between the coach and athletic trainer should be a high priority and should certainly occur before any team activities begin (including lifting, skill sessions, or practices). Your initial meeting will lay the foundation for your future interactions, so it’s important to get off on the right foot.

Below are a list of items to include on your agenda for that first meeting. Individual institutions might have other items that should definitely be discussed, depending on each situation. However, the following items constitute an excellent starting point.

1. Understand each other’s expectations. The coach may be coming from an institution that did things differently from what you’ve done in the past. Clarify the basic elements below at the outset so you are both on the same page:

  • Discuss how each of you are most comfortable communicating with each other, especially during extremely busy points in the season. Do you prefer e-mail, phone, text, or regularly scheduled meeting times?
  • When does the coach need to know player status each day in order to plan practice? Some coaches want to know by 10 a.m., while others are comfortable waiting until 2 p.m. This is always a balance between too early in the day to have complete information and too late to accurately plan practice.
  • How frequently should routine injury updates be communicated — daily, every few days, or only when something new develops?
  • What does the coach prefer you do with injured athletes during practice? Should they spend that time on rehabilitation or watching practice? If they are able, can they participate in parts of practice that are appropriate, or is it an “all or nothing” situation?
  • How will practice schedule changes be communicated to the athletic training staff?

2. Know that expectations may need to be adjusted. If a new coach expects an athletic trainer at every practice, but you are at a school with a large number of sports and small athletic training staff, that may not be possible. If the new coach was used to a situation where MRIs were immediately available, but your local provider requires prior insurance approval and it normally takes several days, then that is an adjustment the coach will have to make.

3. Explain what resources are available for that coach’s team.

  • Will an athletic trainer be present at all team activities, present at most team activities, or only available on campus in a central location?
  • Will an athletic trainer travel with the team for away contests?
  • What is the availability of each of the following: X-ray, lab testing, MRI, general medicine appointments, team physician, and orthopedic or other specialty consultants?

4. Describe your institution’s policies for athletic medical clearance.

  • How and when are preparticipation exams (PPE) done?
  • What is included in the PPE process?
  • Does the PPE process include impact testing, BESS testing, or sickle cell trait verification?

5. Go over your school’s athletic training education program, if necessary. If your school has an athletic training education program, your first meeting with a new coach is the time to explain the role of athletic training students, as well as your role as a preceptor. If you also teach in the program, those responsibilities should be explained, too.

6. Show that you want to forge a positive relationship. If the coach is new to the area, offer to make suggestions on neighborhoods, schools, auto mechanics, and doctors — all things new hires and their families need to know when they move to a new community. One of my mentors, NATA Hall of Famer Gary Delforge, EdD, ATC, gave my graduate athletic training class at the University of Arizona some great advice when he told us to try to establish a relationship with coaches that isn’t just about their injured athletes. “Don’t only show up in their office when you have bad news,” was how he put it. This is a great opportunity to do just that.

A new coach at your institution shouldn’t be a reason to panic. With planning and specific communication early on, it can be a smooth transition.

Photo by Victor Araiza

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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