Jan 29, 2015
New Sport? No Problem!

Athletic training education programs expect students to cover unfamiliar teams. Here’s how to tackle a new assignment.

By Abigail Funk

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. She can be reached at: [email protected].

An athletic training student at Minnesota State University-Mankato may be assigned to cover the women’s bowling team. At Dickinson College, you can end up on the men’s lacrosse team’s sideline. And at Troy University, a student could spend his or her afternoons with the rodeo teams.

Even if your school offers only traditional sports, at some point you will be assigned to cover a sport you’re unfamiliar with. It may be one you’ve simply never played. Or it may be one you’ve barely even heard of.

When this happens to you, don’t worry. Think of it as a chance to expand your knowledge and become a better athletic trainer. “You have to be proactive in your education,” says Patrick Sexton, EdD, ATC, CSCS, Director of Athletic Training Education and Associate Professor at Mankato. “Students like to stay in their comfort zones, but in order to be better athletic trainers, they must explore outside of that zone.

“In our program, the students who used to play basketball or like to watch it aren’t going to be assigned to cover basketball in their rotation,” continues Sexton, who is also Vice-Chair of the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. “They aren’t there to watch the game and hang out with the players. They’re in a rotation to gain experience. We want students to expand their horizons and take in as much as possible.”

So what should you do when assigned to a sport you have little knowledge of? First, tap into your resources. Your approved clinical instructor (ACI) responsible for covering the sport is a great place to start. “We require our students to do an orientation with their ACI, but you can do it on your own, too,” Sexton says. “The ACI can tell you specific information about the practice site, emergency plans, common injuries, and what the coach and athletes are like.”

Bob Shank, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Dickinson, says it can be helpful to speak with the athletic training student who worked with the sport the previous year. “Ask around to find out who covered the sport in the past, get their e-mail address, and initiate communication,” he says. “As a certified athletic trainer after graduation, you could even contact the ATCs at other institutions that you compete against. One of the hallmarks of the athletic training profession is that we’re great about sharing information and helping each other out.”

The sport coach can be a great resource, too. “Always be straightforward with the coach about your lack of knowledge of their sport,” says John Anderson, MS, LAT, ATC, Athletic Training Program Director at Troy. “Honesty is definitely the best policy. You can say, ‘I know first aid, I’ve been trained in handling injuries, but I don’t know a lot about your sport. Can you help me?’ The coaches can tell you what they’ve seen in terms of injuries and what they are most concerned about.”

But, Sexton warns, know that not every coach has the time to sit down with you. “Hopefully, the coach cares enough because you’re a student and this is part of your education,” he says. “But while I’ve had coaches who will bend over backwards to help athletic training students understand the game, there are also coaches who don’t think it’s their responsibility.”

Sometimes, student-athletes on the team can be helpful. “A student-to-student rapport is different than talking to a coach,” Shank says. “If you’re more comfortable talking to a student-athlete, you can do that. Find out what their particular injuries are and what injuries they’ve seen in their teammates in past years.”

Published resources can also help you out, and most are easily accessible online. The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook is on the association’s Web site, along with injury rates for most NCAA sports. The NATA publishes information on injury rates among high school-age athletes in specific sports as well as NCAA Injury Surveillance System results.

“There is a ton of information online,” Shank says. “You can even do a Web search for the sport and see what pops up.”

Common injury occurrences aside, just knowing the rules of a new sport is extremely important, too. For instance, until the 2006 season, there were only natural boundaries in college women’s lacrosse, so athletic trainers had to be able to see a large area of play and make sure they were out of the way when assessing an injured athlete.

“I’ve covered fencing, taekwondo, and judo in the Olympics, and knew nothing about any of those sports,” Anderson says. “But I did know that in judo, as soon as a fighter is touched by a member of the support staff, he’s out. I sat on the bench with an athlete who had a dislocated shoulder and talked him through how to reduce it. I don’t want to think about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t known the rule and touched him to try to help him.”

Whether your resources are coaches, athletes, your ACI, another athletic trainer, or published materials, there is plenty of information out there. You just have to make the effort to find it. “When you watch a medical show on television, the residents are always trying to get surgical patients to see new and different cases,” Sexton says. “I tell our students that’s the sort of thirst they should have when working with a new sport.”


To access the NCAA’s Sports Medicine Handbook, go to: www.ncaa.org and click on the “Media & Events” tab, then click on “Health & Safety” under “NCAA Publications.”

For more information from the NATA on collegiate athletic injuries, go to: www.nata.org/collegiateinjurystats07/index.htm.

For more information from the NATA on high school athletic injuries, go to: www.nata.org/consumer/injuryinfo/index.htm.


Shop see all »

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
website development by deyo designs
Interested in receiving the print or digital edition of Training & Conditioning?

Subscribe Today »

Be sure to check out our sister sites: