Nov 17, 2016
One Big, Happy Family
David Gable

As much as we hate to admit it, a lot of athletic trainers probably spend more time with our “work” family during the season than we do with our personal families. Sad really, but true. Downtime or offseasons are a thing of the past. The demands of the traditional athletic training setting have grown exponentially over the last 10 years, which can put a strain on individuals both at home and at work. Of course, it is critical that we always make time for our families and enjoy every opportunity we get to spend with them. But how do we ensure that our “work family” stays happy too, given the amount of time we spend together? Truthfully? We don’t. At least not always. But it is important that the people we spend so much time with get along well and are always there for each other when needed. Just like family.

At the core of this harmony is putting together a staff with similar personalities and drive. This can be tough to accomplish today with the field of athletic training constantly evolving and many individuals looking to take the next step in their careers. If you are at or near the head of your department, it is likely that you have obtained your career goals, and looking to move another rung up the ladder is not crucial to your self-fulfillment. However, for young athletic trainers hungry to become the boss, it is likely that they will continue to move until that opportunity presents itself. If you are fortunate enough to retain your staff for three to five years, that’s great. But titles and salaries will likely dictate your ability to do so. The key to maintaining harmony amidst all this staff turnover is communication and support.

If you are blessed to have good people on your staff, which I am, keep your core individuals informed, educated, and committed to the department’s mission of promoting the health and safety of the student-athletes. Having regular staff meetings gives you the opportunity to address everyone at one time, so you can catch up on what is happening in and around the department. This goes both ways. With everyone’s busy schedules, it is impossible to know what is going on professionally or personally with each staff member all the time. And sometimes, the personal can affect the professional. Keeping an open door policy is important so your staff feels comfortable speaking with you about their concerns within the department, with their teams, or in their personal lives. Sometimes just being able to talk to someone and get an issue off your chest can be very constructive.

My philosophy is if one of my staff athletic trainers has an idea that can make everyone’s life at work a little easier, they should bring it to me. We’ll discuss it and decide if it is something we can implement.

As a leader of an athletic training staff, it is also crucial to be open to new ideas and thoughts that can benefit the entire department. We have all been exposed to different situations and have colleagues around the country who may have ideas that can enhance our departments. My philosophy is if one of my staff athletic trainers has an idea that can make everyone’s life at work a little easier, they should bring it to me. We’ll discuss it and decide if it is something we can implement. Also, encourage your staff’s professional growth by allowing them to seek new skills or credentials that will help them professionally, as well as enhance the quality of care you can provide in your department.

Another quality that is important to staff well-being is the willingness to help each other out. Whether it is assisting with treatments, covering a practice, or helping a colleague move into a new house, this goes a long way toward establishing good relationships and knowing you can count on one another.

My last piece of advice is to try to spend some time together away from work. This can obviously be challenging, as we spend a lot of time together already. However, an occasional meal, concert, get-together at someone’s house, or a team Tough Mudder can go a long way toward bringing your staff closer together. Getting to know each other outside of the athletic training room allows you to see a different side to someone. Remember, we don’t always know someone’s whole story — we only see a snapshot at work.

Unfortunately, given the environment we work in and the hours we spend together, not everyone is going to get along all of the time. When conflict arises, you have to be willing to listen to a staff member’s concerns and make adjustments if needed. Often, the issue is just a misunderstanding that can easily be addressed. Occasionally, changes will need to be made, but don’t make them at the expense of the rest of the staff. Be careful not to cater to one individual while making several others miserable in the process. Look at what is best for the entire staff even if it means making a tough decision. After all, they are family, too.

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].

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