Jan 29, 2015
More Than an ATC

How can an athletic trainer get involved in student-athlete welfare outside of his or her usual duties? The opportunities are just a couple rakes away.

By R.J. Anderson

at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Most athletic trainers enter the profession for three reasons: They love sports, they are interested in healthcare, and they want to help others. For some, that last reason is what it’s really all about. They not only want to aid athletes through their sports-medicine services, but are also motivated to help students mature and become leaders.

For example, Stephanie Baker-Watson, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Aurora University, coordinates her school’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program, works with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and serves as Senior Woman Administrator. At Washington College, Head Athletic Trainer Thad Moore, MA, MS, ATC, is a faculty advisor to the Student-Athlete Mentor (SAM) group and works with athletes on character development.

“The biggest reason I took on the additional roles is that I feel part of athletic training is educating and counseling athletes, and this is a way to do that on a different level,” says Moore, who is also President of the Maryland Athletic Trainers’ Association. “Because the student-athletes see me involved in different things, they know I really care about them as people, not just as athletes, and it makes them more comfortable around me—they know they can come to me about pretty much any issue. That allows me to do my job better.”

In this article, Baker-Watson, Moore, and other athletic trainers who have taken extra steps to promote student-athlete welfare describe their projects and how they’ve made those projects successful. They also explain why they put in the extra hours for their students.


At Marymount University in Arlington, Va., Head Athletic Trainer Elizabeth Codjoe, MS, ATC, serves as a faculty advisor to her school’s 25-member SAAC, which represents 185 student-athletes. The purpose of the SAAC is to encourage student-athlete leadership and provide athletes with a voice in both campus and NCAA legislation.

As a faculty advisor, Codjoe acts as sounding board and as liaison between student-athletes and senior-level administrators. She is there to hear student-athlete project ideas and offer feedback on what she feels will and will not work in a particular situation.

Codjoe estimates that she spends about 20 hours a month working with the SAAC. She meets with the group one Sunday a month for an hour and a half, and more often when a project deadline or community service effort is looming. The rest of that time is devoted to informal counseling of committee members, making sure projects are on schedule, and talking about SAAC ideas with senior-level administrators.

“Right now they’re doing a community service project where they’re cleaning up a park in the Arlington neighborhood,” Codjoe says. “They also put out a letter asking the parents of every Marymount student to purchase care packages put together by the SAAC that are distributed during exam week. This project doubles as a fundraiser to support other SAAC endeavors.”

Another SAAC-sponsored project is running the student-athlete awards banquet. “Last year they decided to have a fun event instead of a formal banquet,” Codjoe says. “So we had a field-day ceremony where teams competed against each other in events like five-legged races, tug-of-war, dodge ball, and a donut eating contest.”

One of Codjoe’s biggest challenges in advising the SAAC is trying not to be over-controlling. She’s learned that it’s important for the faculty advisors to allow the student-athletes to actually lead the group. Sometimes that means watching them do things differently than she would.

“It’s so easy for us as adults to want to take over and run the projects and do things our way,” says Codjoe. “But you have to let them make mistakes. It’s their voice that needs to be heard, not the persons advising them. You have to take a backseat and let them develop the projects—you are there only to give tips and advice.”

One way Codjoe and her co-advisor, Women’s Lacrosse Coach Darcy Littlefield, stepped back was by reducing their presence at the group’s meetings—instead of attending every weekly meeting, they join the group once a month. “It forced the athletes to get things going on their own,” says Codjoe. “The president took a larger leadership role, and as she did, things began to run more smoothly because the rest of the group saw her as the go-to person instead of myself or Darcy. Now we’re just overseers, making sure they have the proper tools and resources to complete their projects.”

What makes an athletic trainer a good candidate for mentoring student-athlete leaders? For Codjoe, it’s a natural fit with her athletic training skill set. “As athletic trainers we also do a lot of counseling by default,” Codjoe says. “Because we’re accessible and neutral on most issues, we are an ideal sounding board for student-athletes.”

Marymount’s athletes aren’t the only ones benefiting from the SAAC. Codjoe feels that working with student-athletes in a different setting has improved her athletic training skills. “I’m a better listener now,” says Codjoe. “I don’t just see an injury as a ‘knee’ but rather I look at the whole person and all of the factors that go into the injury—because there are also social and mental factors that need to be taken into consideration.”


Other athletic trainers are boosting student-athlete welfare by getting involved with their school’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program. Used at over 400 NCAA institutions, the program’s purpose is to teach student-athletes off-the-field skills that are critical to their present and future success.

At Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, the athletic training department is responsible for planning and hosting events that make up the school’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program. Head Athletic Trainer Jeff Webster, MS, ATC, and Assistant Athletic Trainer Angela Meserole, ATC, the program’s Head Coordinator, work to bring in presenters for a variety of subjects.

Webster believes the key to making these programs work is giving the student-athletes ownership of them. “We poll our kids and ask, ‘What are the things you as a student-athlete have problems with or need help with,'” he says. “We also go to the SAAC and they tell us what they want and then they do a great job of promoting it to athletes throughout the department. We’re constantly talking about our programs in the athletic training room and asking coaches what they want to see. It’s a three-pronged approach: the athletic trainers, the SAAC, and the coaches.”

One particular topic student-athletes at Penn State Behrend indicated they wanted more information on was nutrition. To satisfy that need, Webster and Meserole brought in a nutritionist who works with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “She spoke about general nutrition during her presentation and the kids asked more specific questions afterward,” says Webster. “She also gave out her e-mail address for those who had more questions. She was really down-to-earth and the kids found her very helpful.”

Webster says it’s important to keep the CHAMPS program fresh by offering a variety of topics. For instance, this year he brought in a footwear specialist who gave a presentation about foot biomechanics and proper fit of athletic shoes. The footwear specialist offered one-on-one time in addition to his formal presentation, which Webster finds especially effective. “He spent an extra 45 minutes after the presentation looking at individual kids’ shoes and their foot type,” says Webster. “An athlete would say they were having medial shin pain, and he’d say, ‘This is what kind of shoe you need and this is what you should stay away from.'”

Some of the more successful programs simply bring student services available campus-wide directly to the student-athletes. “The Continuing Distance Education Department does a resume-building presentation at the end of every year,” says Webster. “The counselors also take a look at each individual’s resume and give pointers for improving it. It’s a service available to every student on campus, but we use CHAMPS to make it more accessible to student-athletes, who tend to be more time-crunched.”

Webster says that because of their open, grassroots relationships with student-athletes, he and Meserole are the ideal people to run the school’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program. “It’s easier for us because in the athletic training room we hear a lot of uncensored conversation and we know what the hot-button issues are for our student-athletes,” he says. “We hear things that the coaches might not and we counsel kids informally on a daily basis. It really is a perfect fit.”


At Aurora University, an hour outside Chicago, Baker-Watson is involved in just about every area of student-athlete services, including both the school’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program and SAAC. Most recently, she decided to step up her efforts by securing grants for new student-athlete welfare programs.

Working closely with a professional grant writer from the school, Baker-Watson’s first success was a $10,000 grant from the NCAA to fund a program called “Stepping It Up and Bringing It Down,” which ran during the 2004-05 school year. A collaborative effort between the athletic department and the university’s Office of Residence Life, the project taught students to use leadership skills to avoid the negative consequences of alcohol consumption.

The program began with a survey administered to Aurora students asking them to list their perceptions related to alcohol use. With that data, Baker-Watson helped develop a marketing strategy designed to correct misperceptions and encourage positive behaviors related to drinking. The second phase of the grant funded a leadership academy that included athletic team leaders and members of campus organizations who were charged with carrying out the marketing strategy to curb alcohol abuse. Those 32 student leaders, of which 18 were student-athletes, acted as “change agents,” planning and hosting events.

Though alcohol awareness was the initial area addressed by the group, it also hosted a variety of events that spoke to other campus issues, including diversity education and conflict resolution. The project and the year were punctuated with the leadership academy’s development and execution of final projects that addressed quality-of-life concerns on campus.

“For their final projects, the leadership academy identified an area on campus that they felt needed change, and using the skills that we taught them and their connections with senior level administration, attempted to affect change,” says Baker-Watson. “Then student leaders presented those projects to the university president and senior staffers.”

The leadership academy also taught student-athletes how to point their teammates in the right direction. “They found out that they are in a leadership capacity for a reason: People see something in them,” says Baker-Watson. “And they learned to use that to their advantage and communicate to their teammates about right and wrong.

“We weren’t encouraging those student-athletes to get up on a soap box and preach,” she adds. “But we didn’t want them to shy away from conflict.”

This year, Aurora is using NCAA funding for a project called “Strengthening Our Community,” which examines and promotes diversity, inclusion, and participation between the Aurora campus and the surrounding community. Presenters included a drum circle facilitator and an expert on embracing cultural differences and finding common ground. One facet of the project involves a cross-promotional effort to bring together the school’s SAAC and the campus Latin American Student Organization (LASO) to foster greater understanding of each organization’s goals and objectives. These efforts include the LASO and SAAC working together to increase participation at each organization’s sponsored events—LASO’s Pinata Day and the SAAC’s spring Fan Appreciation Days.

This time around, Baker-Watson authored the $9,400 grant application on her own, without the aid of a professional. For those interested in securing grants, Baker-Watson says the devil is in the details. “The goal is to make sure anyone reviewing the grant will come away with very few questions because you have explained things so thoroughly,” she says.

And grant writing is not as time-consuming as one might think. After five sessions of brainstorming and conceptualizing, Baker-Watson wrote the grant application in three one-hour sittings. “You can complete a grant application easily in two months if you’re working on it a little bit once a week,” says Baker-Watson.

When people ask Baker-Watson why she puts so much effort into improving student-athlete welfare, her answer is simple. “I believe that my role is to give student-athletes the greatest experience they can possibly have,” she says. “I look at all the other areas of their lives off the field and say, ‘How can we improve them?’

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Baker-Watson adds. “In athletic training, the people who come to you are usually hurt, so you see them at their lowest point. Watching kids go through leadership training and apply those skills within the context of their team shows them at their peak. Seeing that is a great high for me.”


At Washington College, Moore is one of three faculty supervisors for the 50-person Student-Athlete Mentor (SAM) group, which has goals of building leaders in the locker room and projecting positive student-athlete behavior on campus and in the community. Moore guides the SAMs through a variety of projects, including selecting and hosting educational speakers for the student-athletes in areas like drug and alcohol awareness, sexual harassment, and nutrition. Moore serves as a conduit between the student-athletes and the senior-level administrators at Washington, and also writes the $500 NCAA-sponsored speaker compensation grants that help fund presentations.

One of the group’s ongoing projects is a national program called “Character Counts,” in which student-athlete mentors divide into small groups and visit local elementary and middle schools. “The SAMs work with the teachers to go over the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship,” says Moore. “Each week during the school year, the SAMs take one of those pillars and conduct a 15- or 20-minute educational program. The kids love it and it’s a great form of community involvement.”

A constant theme the SAMs promote is “athletes supporting athletes.” It’s a message pushed within the group, and within each of their teams. “We’re a small school, so it really means something if 40 men’s lacrosse players attend a volleyball game,” says Moore. “We also try to reinforce the message by hosting an athlete appreciation day where the SAMs grill hamburgers and hot dogs for the student-athletes and anyone else who stops by.”

Between helping plan events and attending about one meeting a month, Moore says working with the SAM group occupies about four hours a month. “It’s pretty easy because our SAMs are really proactive and self-sufficient,” he says. “It also helps that I’m one of three advisors, so we can divvy up the workload.”

Moore also points to the SAM Council—a five-person leadership corps within the group—as carrying a lot of organizational weight. “We rely heavily on the SAM council by telling members exactly what we need from them and emphasizing that it’s their program and that we’re just there to help them help themselves.

“We meet with the council before the monthly SAM meeting to set the agenda,” he adds. “Then at the meeting, the council takes charge, leads us through the agenda, and opens it up for questions and ideas.”

Another project Moore recently undertook is the establishment of a monthly captains’ meeting with representatives from each team. After hearing about a similar idea at a conference last year, Moore pitched the concept to his athletic director and got the go-ahead. One idea that the captains are working on is establishing a ‘safe ride’ program to curb drunk driving by Washington students. Still in the planning stages, it would call for team captains to operate a taxi service from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on the weekends, driving students home from local bars and parties.

“We’re trying to tap into as much leadership in the athletic department as we can,” says Moore, who is the sole advisor for the captains’ meetings. “It’s another voice coming from the athletic department that we hope will enact positive change.”

Though certified athletic trainers are not routinely called on to advise student-athlete leadership groups, Moore says it is the very nature of his sports medicine position that makes him an ideal advisor. “I already have a good relationship with those athletes and they know I’m a neutral party,” he says. “An athlete might have some reservations about going to a coach or athletic director with some types of questions, but they tend to be pretty candid when talking to me. I’m also in-tune enough with the internal workings of the athletic department that if they ask questions, I can usually give them an answer or direct them to the right resource.”

Like Baker-Watson, Moore finds that getting involved with student-athletes outside the athletic training room gives him a fresh perspective and an enhanced appreciation for the athletes he treats. “I love working with student-athletes, and this is another avenue to do that,” he says. “Now, I not only see them when they’re hurt, I get to see them out doing some good in the community, which I really enjoy.”


How do the athletic trainers in this article find the time to work on student-athlete welfare issues? Stephanie Baker-Watson, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Aurora University, collaborates with others so the work is divided up and not overwhelming.

“It’s about asking for help and getting other people in the athletic department involved, especially those who have the same sort of passion you do,” says Baker-Watson. “Maybe they’re good at selecting speakers, but don’t want to host the event, so you find ways to work together and share the load.

“Also, my athletic director is extremely supportive and helped me obtain an ethnic minority and women’s internship grant this past year,” Baker-Watson adds. “And one of the duties we created for the position, in addition to coaching, was to have that person work with our CHAMPS/Life Skills program.”

It also helps to focus on the activity at hand and not get too caught up with multi-tasking. “I’m a to-do list kind of person—everything goes in my to-do list book,” says Baker-Watson. “When I schedule an hour to write a grant, that’s what I’m doing: just writing the grant. I schedule specific times for those kinds of things so they don’t interfere with my athletic training responsibilities.

“I bring that same sort of commitment to my athletic training duties,” she adds. “If I need to plan and make phone calls, I don’t try to do that when I’m working in the athletic training room. And I don’t multi-task during practice because my focus is solely on my student-athletes and coaches.”


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