Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Dan Newman

Union High School, Tulsa, Okla.

Dedicated, passionate, and innovative are just three of the words that describe Dan Newman as an athletic trainer. But the best way to sum up Newman, MS, ATC, LAT, Head Athletic Trainer at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., is: leader.

To start, Newman oversees a model sports medicine program at Union that includes two assistant athletic trainers and an athletic training student aide program serving 1,700 athletes in 24 sports. Union was also recently recognized as the first NATA Safe School in Oklahoma.

Newman’s also a leader in the Sooner State. He served as President of the Oklahoma Athletic Trainers’ Association (OATA) from 2010 to 2014 and is currently the Athletic Training Representative to the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

With more than a few feathers in his state cap, Newman took his leadership skills to the national stage in 2013, when he became the NATA Secondary Schools Athletic Trainer Committee District V Chair. Furthering his work with the NATA, he was selected that same year to the NATA State Association Advisory Committee (SAAC) as the Division II Caucus Leader.

His dedication to both Union and his profession has not gone unnoticed. In 2013, Newman was the OATA Athletic Trainer of the Year, and he was honored with the NATA Service Award in February 2014.

How do you mentor the students in Union’s athletic training aide program? When I first started working with student aides, my focus was to inundate them with everything I possibly could about athletic training to get them excited about the profession. But over the last few years, I’ve scaled back that approach. They’re still trained to recognize emergencies, but now I’m trying to teach them more about working with various peer groups, communicating with adults, meeting new people, and improving their time management and personal responsibility skills.

The program is now more about learning general life lessons than the specifics of the profession. If I have a couple of kids go into athletic training, that’s awesome. My larger goal, though, is that they all go on to college or find something they want to excel at.

What are their day-to-day responsibilities? They’re changing. The question of how to use student athletic training aides is at the forefront of the NATA Secondary Schools Committee’s work. With the knowledge I’ve gained from that group, I’m adjusting what we do here at Union. We have 13 to 15 aides in the program, and they are trained in basic wound care, first aid, CPR, and AED use. But their main job is to be my eyes and ears when a certified athletic trainer can’t be at a practice or a game. They have a direct line to me should something happen to an athlete.

What are the keys to effectively managing an athletic training staff?

It definitely starts with being a good communicator, leading by example, and allowing my assistant athletic trainers to be professionals in their own right. Just because I’ve been here for 12 years doesn’t mean I know everything. I had done things a certain way simply because I was the only one here. When my assistants came on board at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, however, I made it clear to them that I wanted their input on ways to improve things.

For example, one of my assistants is the former head athletic trainer of a local high school, so he brought a wealth of knowledge and different experiences to the table. My other assistant recently graduated from the University of Tulsa and was one of my student aides in 2009, so it’s fun to hear her ideas and perspective. As the head of the program, I may have the final say, but it’s a complete team effort.

What’s your approach to communicating with various constituents? I try to go into every conversation with a neutral attitude and aim to be a good listener. I want to hear their side before I present mine. Even if a coach calls fuming and complaining about something, and I know they’re way off base, I don’t interrupt them. Once they’ve had their say, I gently try to explain the situation and put things in perspective. And as you listen, you also have to be willing to change your opinion if what the other person says has merit.

You are active on Twitter. How can other athletic trainers effectively use social media? To start, only post positive material. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram are great tools for dispensing information to students, parents, and coaches about athletic training, whether it’s policy updates or stories about the profession. Social media also allows you to promote your department and the good things you are doing. For example, I would put up a picture of my student aides volunteering at a marathon for everyone to see.

Don’t use social media to air dirty laundry and complain about parents, coaches, or anything else, though. I particularly love Twitter because you only have 140 characters to state your piece, which makes it a little more difficult to look unprofessional–it can be done, but it’s not easy.

How did you end up at Union?

My wife and I are from the Tulsa area, and as an undergrad at TU, I did a clinical rotation here. A few years later, while I was the Head Athletic Trainer at Friends University, an NAIA school in Kansas, the head athletic trainer position at Union came open. The school was getting ready to open a new $23 million multipurpose athletic facility with a 2,200 square foot athletic training room, plus I already knew the head football coach and what the program was all about, so I jumped at the opportunity. Union was doing things no other high school was doing at the time.

What was so special about Union’s way of doing things? I compare Union to the New York Yankees: Many other schools don’t like us, but deep down, they all want to be us. Our facilities are top-notch, we have the best coaches in the area, and everyone from our superintendent to our teachers and parents supports the athletic department.

In addition, Union has a long history of having an athletic trainer. Because the program was already established when I got here, I didn’t have to convince the coaches, administrators, and athletes of what my role should be.

What challenges do you face at Union?

Sheer numbers. For my first 11 years here, I was on my own trying to operate a health care facility for 1,700 athletes. I had to learn how to split my time without wearing myself down, which I got better at over time.

Another challenge is that some of our student-athletes have difficulty affording adequate health care coverage. We work closely with a local sports medicine clinic to make sure our athletes get the assistance they need, whether it’s from our team physicians or a specialist.

Why have you stayed at Union for so long?

I love the kids and the people I work with, and the support I get from my administrators has been a big part of it. They have always been committed to allowing me to pursue leadership interests on the state and national levels, which gives me the best of both worlds. Plus, they treat the athletic training program and its student aides as part of the athletic department, not an outside group. It’s a unique atmosphere.

What is the NATA Secondary Schools Committee working on now? In addition to talking about how to best utilize athletic training student aides, we’ve been collaborating with the Korey Stringer Institute on a saturation study about what percentage of high schools have access to an athletic trainer. From there, we’re brainstorming unique ways to get athletic trainers in every school. We’ve found that we can’t just say, “States need to mandate that every high school has an athletic trainer,” because that’s not going to accomplish anything. Instead, we’re working across different committees to find ways to get athletic trainers into high schools without putting the entire financial burden on the school.

Have you thought about working in any other settings? I love it here at Union, but deep down, I’ve always had the itch to get back to the college setting. I really loved my time working with football as a graduate student at UNLV, and if someone comes calling when my daughters–who are 12 and seven–are a little older, I might consider it. It would have to be the right fit for both my family and my career. I would love to one day work at my alma mater, TU, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.

With two young children, how do you strike a work-life balance? It helps that my daughters love being at Union and in the athletic training room. I bring them with me to work all of the time. Some people say you should keep your work and home life separate, but I disagree.

Still, I wouldn’t be able to do this job if it wasn’t for my wife, Becky. She supports me 100 percent. When I got the nod to be on the NATA Secondary Schools Committee, I was very excited. Two days later, I was selected for the SAAC. So there I am on two big national committees, and she never blinked an eye. She knows what those roles mean to me and how it all fits together.

What was your response to your recent awards? Receiving the Athletic Trainer of the Year Award and the Service Award were both very humbling. I loved the recognition and being interviewed for newspaper and website articles, but I’m even more thankful for the opportunity to use the attention to promote the profession of athletic training. I’m not doing anything special or different than most athletic trainers–I’m just doing my job.


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