May 30, 2017No Time Off
By David Gable
David Gable, MS, LAT, ATC, is Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer for Football at Texas Christian University. He can be reached at: [email protected].
The offseason. Wait, what’s that? I seem to remember something about an offseason in college athletics, but the memory has mostly faded.
At the risk of dating myself, I do recall a time when student-athletes were not around campus. Young professionals likely are not familiar with this idea, but believe it or not, there was a time when athletes actually went home over the holiday breaks and in May at the end of the traditional semester. It was a time when an athletic trainer could catch up on projects that you had neglected during the season, reorganize and prepare for next season, and, most importantly, clear your mind and rest your body. As an athletic trainer, you could always look forward to those times during the year when things actually slowed down and you could regroup and catch your breath. Ah, the good ol’ days.
I am not exactly sure when things began to change. For simplicity, let’s agree that it began around 10 years ago. Somewhere along the way, the shift began to a “more is better” mentality. What started as a small wave–mainly with football–spread to other sports that became interested in redirecting the offseason in fear of being left behind or being less prepared than their competitors. Eventually, this turned into a tsunami.
Don’t get me wrong–all athletic trainers enjoy working with our athletes. For most of us, this is what drives our passion for what we do in our profession. We get the opportunity each day to make a difference in athletes’ lives. Helping them overcome an injury is very satisfying, and seeing them return to the field or court and be successful is why we do what we do. Along the way, we also develop lifelong relationships with these kids.
Having year-round training at the NCAA Division I level is not all bad, either. Athletes are really never out of the athletic trainer’s care for more than a couple of weeks at a time and usually not all at the same time. This does allow us to follow their medical care more closely and provide consistent rehab programs without a change in or drop in care. The opportunity to continue with preventive maintenance programs and maintain conditioning levels can be beneficial, as well. It can be good to have the student-athletes around, particularly those that you need additional time with from an injury standpoint.
But everyone benefits from some downtime. Athletes can benefit both physically and mentally from checking out from the grind of academics and athletics, which also goes a long way in healing the body.
Athletic trainers need time away, too. We constantly struggle with maintaining a good work-life balance. When it’s out of balance, it can lead to early burnout in the profession and a potential change in career path. Long hours, stress, a lack of true off-days, and, in a lot of situations, a lack of financial security can take its toll on athletic trainers, especially those who are new to our profession.
The NATA has done an outstanding job of growing our profession into a strong and well-respected group of medical professionals, but many athletic trainers have made personal sacrifices along the way to get where we are today. Athletic trainers have always been known for their hard work, dedication, and sacrifices for the good of the student-athlete and the program. No one could ever accuse us of being slackers. We’re the first ones in and the last ones out on most days. This dedication is both a pro and a con for our profession, as it reflects our work ethic, but also has come to be expected of us on a daily basis. In this way, we helped create the monster.
Fortunately, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. The NCAA is in the process of revising and adopting reforms to the Countable Athletically Related Activities (CARA) and Required Athletically Related Activities (RARA) guidelines. Student-athletes have been given a voice in the amount of time they are required to spend doing athletically related activities, which will allow them to have an adequate amount of time off and better balance academics and athletics.
Requiring true and additional off-days for student-athletes could somewhat benefit athletic trainers, as well. Although changes to CARA and RARA do not specifically include medical care–as it is critical to the health and safety of athletes–they will allow us more opportunities to plan schedules ahead of time and create more time off when our athletes are scheduled to be away.
To date, most of us have adapted to the increased time demands placed on us, but this small shift in the opposite direction is encouraging. It is crucial that athletic trainers find a good work-life balance,so we can maintain our young, well-trained, and educated colleagues, give them incentive to stay in this field, and continue providing outstanding medical care to student-athletes. Directors and supervisors must identify and create opportunities for their staffs to get away and decompress. It’s amazing how refreshed one can feel after some time away, which only leads to a fresh mind and energetic athletic trainer who can then return to providing the very best health care that student-athletes deserve.