Jan 29, 2015Q&A with Kyle Wilson
Kyle Wilson, MEd, LAT, ATC, Director of Athletic Training and Head Football Athletic Trainer at UNLV, didn’t intend to stay in Las Vegas this long. However, he’s been a mainstay in the Runnin’ Rebels athletic department for almost 30 years and at this point Wilson says he’ll stay as long as the university will let him.
He began as an Assistant Athletic Trainer for the football and men’s basketball teams in 1984, became Head Football Athletic Trainer in 1990, and was named Head Athletic Trainer in 1997. Two years later, Wilson received a new title when he became Director of Athletic Training.
Wilson has also been a Clinical Instructor and Supervisor since his arrival in 1984 and has been an Approved Clinical Instructor since 2002. Despite having his hands full with an 11-person staff, as well as his role in the athletic training education program, Wilson has served on multiple professional committees. He was President of the Nevada Athletic Trainers Association from 1994 to 1998 and spent six years on the NATA’s Research & Education Foundation board. In this interview, he talks about changes in the profession, why he continues to juggle so many responsibilities, and the best ways to get along with coaches.
T&C: What have you learned in your 28 years as an athletic trainer?
Wilson: There are always going to be new challenges to deal with, so you need to be learning on a constant basis. And I don’t mean just learning how to rehabilitate injured athletes. You need to stay up to date on the latest trends in the sports medicine community and be aware of growing issues.
For example, in recent years, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of medical issues student-athletes deal with that aren’t orthopaedic injuries. These include eating disorders, depression, cardiac issues, and even asthma. It’s critical to remain informed on emerging issues by going to conferences, obtaining CEU credits, and regularly communicating with team physicians.
How were you able to rise through the ranks at UNLV?
I’ve been fortunate. I didn’t apply for either the Head Football Athletic Trainer position or the Director of Athletic Training position. In the first case, the current football athletic trainer was also the head athletic trainer for the basketball team, and when he decided he couldn’t do both and began concentrating on basketball, I took over football duties. In the second case, the previous Head Athletic Trainer moved into administration and chose me to take his place. He was only two years older than me, so I figured he’d be there for a long time and I hadn’t even thought about the position. He actually called me and told me about it when I was on vacation, so it caught me completely by surprise. But I was honored to have the position offered to me in that manner.
What advice would you give to others who are unexpectedly offered a new position?
Take your time and decide if it’s right for you. Yes, it’s great to get a raise and a new job title, but you shouldn’t just accept any position offered to you. You need to remember that there will be increased responsibility with those perks, and you need to decide if that’s something you want and can handle. I would also suggest talking with your predecessor so you get a clear understanding of the responsibilities you’ll have. Finally, make sure you talk to the person you would report to because it’s crucial to know if you’ll be expected to keep policies and procedures the same, or if you’ll have the freedom to make changes.
What was the biggest adjustment you made?
I had to learn how to handle a staff. It really forced me to become a better communicator because I was often approached for advice when staff members had issues with a rehab program, head coach, or student-athlete. I wanted to give these staff members the freedom to handle things themselves and not step in every time there was a problem. They won’t learn how to make decisions on their own if I don’t let them.
How do you find the right balance between giving freedom to staff members and providing help?
The main thing I look for is if the decision could put a student-athlete at risk. Our number-one concern is student-athlete welfare, so I always err on the side of caution in those instances. But if a staff member is simply having difficulty talking to a coach, I give them general advice on how to approach that coach. This way they have the information they need to decide the best way to handle it, but the action is ultimately in their hands.
What do you look for in a new hire?
It seems like most athletic trainers who apply for a position have similar skill sets, so I always focus on finding someone who is proficient in an area that current staff members don’t have as strong of a background in, such as a specific type of therapy. I also look at the type of person they are, because if the applicant has had issues dealing with the staff at their previous job, they’re not going to be a good fit here.
How do you ensure a smooth transition for new staff members?
Ninety percent of the policies and procedures we have in place here are likely the same as at other schools, so it’s important to focus on the 10 percent that are unique to our institution. Additionally, making new hires comfortable is crucial. Right away, I introduce them to the people they’ll be working with, like the team physicians, so they feel confident going to them if they need something.
An emerging concern for athletic trainers who work with football teams is the possibility of being replaced if an incoming football coach wants to bring his own staff on board. Do you worry about that?
Absolutely. The bottom line is that a lot of college athletics is about money. And the responsibility for generating that money often rests with the head football coach, which naturally gives them more power. I think one possible solution is to have athletic trainers hired by the university hospital or student health center rather than the athletic department. Not only would it stop the problem of losing your job when a new coach comes in, it would promote greater job security in general.
What are the keys to good relationships with coaches?
It’s easy to say that communication is important. But in many cases, athletic trainers focus on the frequency of communication they have with a coach and not the specifics of what they’re communicating. We often have to tell coaches that we need to hold a player out of a game, so it may seem like we’re always giving them bad news. It’s crucial to find opportunities to talk about other things. Seek out coaches when players are recovering sooner than anticipated, or chat about a game you watched the other night. That way, they won’t view you as the person who only delivers unfortunate news.
With so much on your plate, why have you continued to teach?
It’s important to give back to the profession. I’ve always loved working with students, especially in the clinical setting where I am able to really help cultivate excitement about what we’re doing. We need to keep the pipeline full and make sure we have qualified and enthusiastic athletic trainers coming into the profession each year, and this is a way that I can help.
You were President of the Nevada Athletic Trainers Association for four years and an NATA Research & Education Foundation board member for six. What’s the benefit to association work?
I really enjoyed it because it helped me become much more knowledgeable about athletic training and connect with a lot of great people, both in Nevada and nationally. Being on just one committee can open up countless doors. On that committee, you’ll meet someone who encourages you to get on another committee, and it becomes a cycle of meeting new people and learning new things.
How do you juggle all of your duties and not get burnt out?
That’s very challenging. I don’t know that I have a great work-life balance, but I try to unwind by going to as many games I can as a fan. It also helps to enjoy what you’re doing and have good relationships with others. I have a good relationship with my administrators, and I love being around athletes.