Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with R.T. Floyd

University of West Alabama

When R.T. Floyd, EdD, ATC, CSCS, first walked onto the campus of the University of West Alabama in 1974, the 18-year-old immediately became the school’s most experienced athletic trainer. He was also its only athletic trainer.

Nearly 40 years later, Floyd is still at West Alabama, and he’s become one of the most decorated athletic trainers in the profession. After earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the school (he also has a Doctorate from the University of Alabama), Floyd is now the Director of Athletic Training & Sports Medicine and Chair and Professor for the Department of Physical Education and Athletic Training. The architect of the school’s athletic training education program, Floyd is also the author of the textbook Manual of Structural Kinesiology and co-author of Kinesiology of Manual Therapies.

He has worked under nine different athletic directors at West Alabama, an NCAA Division II school, and is a member of its athletics hall of fame, the Alabama Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame, and the Southeast Athletic Trainers’ Association (SEATA) Hall of Fame. An even bigger honor comes Floyd’s way in June, when he will be part of the NATA’s 2013 Hall of Fame class.

An attendant at every NATA and SEATA meeting since 1975, Floyd has been active in the leadership of each organization, including an eight-year stint representing SEATA as a District Director to the NATA Board of Directors and will begin a four-year term as President of the NATA Research and Education Foundation Board of Directors in June. He was also appointed to the 2012 NATA Nomenclature Workgroup, a task force that studied, considered, and ultimately decided against a potential move away from the term “athletic trainer.”

We talked to Floyd about his career path and how he splits his time between teaching and athletic training. He also shares thoughts on his work with the Nomenclature Workgroup and learning from renowned orthopedic surgeon, James Andrews, MD.

T&C: How did you get your start in athletic training? Floyd: As a teenager, I attended Cramer Camps in the summer where I learned the basics of athletic training, and I also served as the athletic trainer at my high school for four years. I received an academic scholarship to attend West Alabama, where I knew I wanted to pursue athletic training. However, as a freshman, I was the only person at the school with any athletic training background, so by default, I became the Head Athletic Trainer.

I would not trade that experience for anything. I learned a lot in a short period of time because I had to. There was nobody there for me to fall back on for help. Fortunately, I had a lot of great mentors I could turn to whenever I had questions or concerns. For example, I would frequently call Jim Goostree, who was the Athletic Trainer at the University of Alabama, Kenny Howard at Auburn University, and John Anderson at Troy University. Another big influence was Dr. James Andrews, whose clinic was located four hours away [in Columbus, Ga.].

How did you meet Andrews? During my first year at West Alabama, he flew in to attend our football preseason practices, and I picked him up from the airport. He had operated on two or three players the year before and wanted to check on their progress.

He gave me his card with his home telephone number on it and told me to call him anytime I had a problem or question–day or night. And I did. Over the next few years I called him quite a bit and he was always happy to help.

There were also quite a few times I would load up a station wagon with six to eight injured players and drive to his home late at night. Dr. Andrews would examine them all in his living room. Those he determined needed surgery would stay in his extra bedroom, and he would check them into the hospital the next day. I would drive back to school, then return a couple of days later to pick those players up.

What have you learned from Andrews over the years?

He tells people, “If you’re going to be in sports medicine, you have to answer the phone.” And he practices what he preaches. Whenever I call him, if he can’t take the call then, he always returns it within a few hours. I try to make myself equally accessible.

He also taught me the importance of getting to know a patient. You can learn a lot about them by simply sitting down and having a conversation about their goals, concerns, and injury history. I won’t put my hand on a patient until I’ve had a good discussion with them.

Doing that also shows the patient that I care, which comes back to help me when I have to advise them on their next course of action, whether it’s treatment, surgery, or rehab. They buy into what I tell them because I’ve taken the time to show that I’m interested in them as a person.

Why do you enjoy working in NCAA Division II athletics? One advantage of working in Division II is that you get to do a lot more athlete care because there isn’t as much physician involvement as in big-time Division I athletics. Physician involvement is not necessarily a bad thing, but many times I see them stepping in and filling roles that athletic trainers normally do. In some cases, the athletic trainer doesn’t play an integral role in making decisions about athlete care because the physician is there and sees the athlete every day.

Also in Division II, we really get to know all of the athletes because we don’t just work with one or two teams. And there are very few Division I programs where an athletic trainer is responsible for athlete care and involved with the academic side of things–both of which I really enjoy.

How do you balance your teaching and athletic training responsibilities? I teach year-round, including a couple of classes in the summer. My classes cover treatment of athletic injuries and kinesiology. It all blends together nicely because I’m teaching the athletic training students that I see on the fields, in the gyms, and in the athletic training room. That exposure allows me to reinforce the lessons I give them in the classroom.

At some schools, there are struggles between the athletic training education program and the clinical side. What works for us is that every one of our athletic trainers is involved in teaching in some capacity. There isn’t anyone who works only for athletics or only for academics. This helps prevent having students who are taught one thing in class, then see it done differently on the field. The arrangement also provides more ownership of the program for our staff because they are so invested in what we do athletically, clinically, and academically.

What is your thought process when putting together an athletic training staff? The trick is to hire good people, give them the resources they need, let them do their jobs, and be available in a support role. Also, I’m not interested in hiring people who are just like me. I want people who come from different backgrounds and different programs because they can bring new things to the table.

You’ve served in a variety of leadership capacities within your school’s faculty. What drives you to get so involved? I love the university and will do whatever I can to help it progress and serve our community. I try to step up when I see a need. For example, when I was the Faculty Senate president years ago, we were trying to become the first campus in our state to become completely wireless in every building. So I really worked hard to push that effort forward by convincing the faculty to approach technology in a positive fashion.

What has kept you at one school for so many years? There’s an old saying: “You bloom where you’re planted.” That’s what has happened for me at West Alabama. I’ve had offers to go to other places and have seriously considered a few, but I have always chosen to stay here, and I’ve never regretted it.

I turned those other offers down because I believed my work here was not yet finished and more challenges remained. From being a one-man show as a student and moving into a full-time position, to building a staff and starting an athletic training curriculum and an outreach program to serve the community, I couldn’t let myself walk away during any stage of the building process.

What have you learned from working with the NATA and SEATA leadership? That there is always another side to every story. I’ve also learned to never say “never” and never say “always,” and that sometimes you have to change how you address a situation depending on the variables you’re dealt with.

In my work with the NATA Research and Education Foundation Board and as a District Director, people came to us with a variety of problems and we have to be fair. That means gathering a lot of input, in many cases from people who are a lot smarter than me. I found it was important to surround myself with smart people who knew what they were doing rather than thinking I knew it all myself.

Why was the NATA Nomenclature Workgroup formed?

Many people feel the term “athletic trainer” is confusing and that there is a lack of public understanding of what an athletic trainer is. I think our professional association and members have done a good job over the last several years of trying to get the public to understand what we do, but nevertheless, it’s still not where we’d like it to be.

And so, after hearing concern from our members, Jim Thornton, then the incoming NATA president, formed a group to look into the issue further. All of the committees of the NATA were consulted, and our group represented a very diverse cross-section of demographic groups and geographic regions.

What did the task force determine?

In the end we decided that although “athletic trainer” may not perfectly describe our profession, we have made great strides over the last few years to publicize our profession and emphasize using the name “athletic trainer,” instead of “trainer.” We decided that we have gone too far with the current term to change directions now. Any new name would take us right back to where we started when we began working to emphasize the term “athletic trainer.” Plus, nearly every state law with language referring to our profession was written using those terms.

Then there was the matter of what we would change our name to. After much deliberation, we could not settle on any other term that did as good of a job as “athletic trainer.”

What were some of the most interesting findings that came out of the discussion? Along with a national survey that was sent to all of our members, there was one given to some members of the public as well as other medical professionals to see what type of understanding they had about the term “athletic trainer” and “athletic training.” We were pleasantly surprised by their answers. They knew a lot more about what we do than we thought.

Are you satisfied with the outcome? Absolutely. When the Nomenclature Workgroup was formed, quite a few people felt we would end up changing the name. But when it was all said and done, it was unanimous that we should keep it the same. I don’t think the NATA has ever done a better job at being so thorough about investigating an issue affecting its membership. Obviously there are always people who disagree with the final decision, but I don’t think they can criticize the transparency of the process and the effort the task force put into coming up with the conclusion.

How did you get involved with authoring textbooks? Manual for Structural Kinesiology, now in its 18th edition, has been around since 1948, and I had taught the book and been a reviewer of it for many years. Then in 1992, I was at the NATA Convention and ran into the book’s editor. The previous author had just died, and I asked the editor if they had found a replacement. She said, “No, would you be interested?” I told her I would, and she asked me to write a sample chapter. She liked it, and the rest is history. I never set out to be a textbook author, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

What is your writing process like? I teach the book every fall and summer, so it’s always in the back of my mind. I carry the most current version of it in my briefcase wherever I go, and I constantly mark it up whenever something comes to me. For example, if I’m going over something in class and think of a better way to present it, I’ll make a note in that copy. I also get a lot of input from the students I teach as well as the various reviewers who go over it.

I do the actual writing when I have time and typically put more hours in per day the closer I get to the deadline. I find I do my best work during football season when I’m on the bus traveling with the team. It usually takes six months from start to finish to make all of my changes.

What does being inducted into the NATA Hall of Fame mean to you? It’s very humbling and I’m honored to be considered part of a group that includes many of my heroes. Some people’s heroes are professional athletes, but mine are NATA Hall of Famers. Having my name alongside theirs is a tremendous honor. It’s also a testament to the support of our administration at West Alabama and the work of my staff through the years. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by good people during my entire career.


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