Jan 29, 2015
Networking 101

In the athletic training profession, networking is a key skill. But exactly how do you do it?

Of all the skills that will help you succeed as an athletic trainer, one of the most important isn’t taught in the classroom or learned in the athletic training room. Knowing how to network and develop a broad base of connections is one key to expanding your knowledge, growing professionally, and furthering your career. So when you’re starting out as an athletic trainer, it’s important to look for ways to build relationships with other members of the field.

Some of the best networking resources to tap into are your local, state, and national athletic training organizations. “Especially when you first move into a new area, joining professional groups and attending their conferences and events is a great way to network,” says Thomas Palmer, MSEd, ATC, CSCS, Program Director of the Athletic Training Education Program at Charleston Southern University. “Whether it’s the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s annual convention or a small conference hosted by your local hospital, show up and try to meet as many people as you can. Relationships can easily build out from there.”

State and local organizations provide many opportunities for young athletic trainers to meet new people because they offer lots of different ways to get involved. Volunteering to work on a committee or help plan a special event, for instance, can be a springboard to connecting with others.

“A great way to start is just by finding out who the president or the executive board members of a state or district organization are, then contacting them and saying, ‘How can I get involved?'” explains Neal Dutton, MS, ATC/L, Director of Athletic Training at Bethel University.

“For example, in our state we have a public relations event every spring that requires volunteer help, so it’s just a matter of asking the people in leadership positions what needs to be done,” Dutton continues. “When I got my first job, I went straight to the leaders at the state level and said, ‘I’m new to the area and I don’t know anybody, but I’m willing to help out.’ And it wasn’t long before they had me involved with my first project.”

Many professional organizations also host special events geared specifically toward helping members network with each other. From luncheons to golf outings, these events are great ways to introduce yourself and interact with athletic trainers from a wide variety of professional settings.

Of course, to get the most from opportunities like these, you have to be willing to break the ice and begin a dialogue with people you don’t know. To make this easier, seek out individuals who have experience in your areas of greatest interest—people you would really like to learn from.

“My best advice for anybody who’s just getting started is, be willing to ask lots of questions,” Dutton says. “When I first started, there were two or three athletic trainers in my area who I called frequently, and they didn’t know me at first. I told them who I was and what I was interested in, and then I just started asking all sorts of questions and we got to know each other pretty well. And now 25 years later, when I go to our state golf tournament every year, I still catch up with those same people who helped me when I started out.”

You can even start building relationships before you graduate. Your fellow athletic training students can be an excellent networking resource—after all, they’re in the same situation you are, soon to be starting out a career and looking to make connections. Become friends with 10 people in your program now, and five years down the road, you might have 10 contacts at athletic departments and clinics around the country.

“I definitely keep in touch with some of the people I studied with as an undergraduate,” Palmer says. “Some of them are now working as athletic trainers at big Division I universities, and I’m at a smaller D-I school, so I’ve utilized those individuals for their knowledge and resources again and again. And of course, I’m always glad to help them out whenever I can.”

Another way to network while you’re still a student is by forming a relationship with a mentor, someone whose work you respect and want to know more about. “I think a mentor is one of the most important things you can have in our profession,” Palmer says. “It can be a physician, a physical therapist, a certified ATC, an educator, a clinical instructor, or even emergency medical personnel. In athletic training, there’s so much information out there, you’re never going to learn it all. But one thing you realize is that there are so many resources you can learn to use, and an experienced mentor can teach you how to benefit from them.”

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