Apr 26, 2017
Speaking from Experience
Larry Cooper

This month, I was asked to write about what I thought it takes to be successful in the secondary school setting as an athletic trainer. While I am certainly not an expert in this field, I have had some time to think about what might translate into success. The following are some of my observations, thoughts, and opinions, but it’s certainly not an all-inclusive list. These bullets can be viewed as strategies or behaviors that might increase your chances of a positive, lengthy career at the high school level. Keep in mind, however, that every job has different circumstances, and these tips might not apply across the board.

Stay true to yourself:

  • In your injury evaluations.
  • In your dealings with coaches, parents, athletes, and administrators.
  • Even when it is the toughest thing you have ever done.
  • Don’t compromise your personal or professional ethics and morals.
  • Do things for the right reason.

Understand that you are a role model from day one:

  • Athletes hang on to what you tell them.
  • Even when you are not at work.
  • Don’t be afraid or intimidated by this.
  • Understand what that means.
  • Use it to your advantage.

Believe what you do truly makes a difference:

  • You care, maybe more than anyone besides the athlete’s parents.
  • You might be the athlete’s only advocate.
  • You are a constant every season.
  • You are a calming voice.
  • You are the health care professional.

Don’t overestimate or underestimate your value:

  • Just know that you are valuable, needed, and respected.

Be flexible:

  • Change with the seasons.
  • Be willing to try new treatments or rehab methods.
  • Pick the brains of local athletic trainers and physicians.
  • Step back once in awhile to see what is working and what isn’t.
  • Watch how other athletic trainers handle situations.
  • Know when you should dig your heels in.

Step away once in a while:

  • From work.
  • From sports.
  • From routine.

Get connected:

  • Sounding board.
  • Advice.
  • Rule changes.
  • Dealing with difficult coaches, parents, or athletes.

Use your resources:

  • Develop a network of fellow athletic trainers.
  • Start a directory of athletic trainers in your section, league, district, etc.
  • Know your NATA District officers and committee members.
  • Know your state leaders and committee chairs.
  • Know your NATA officers, leaders, and committee people.
  • Read the eBlasts, newsletters, settings blogs, and NATA News.
  • Know your school board members.
  • Know the influential stakeholders in your community.
  • Read blogs from fellow athletic trainers.

Find a hobby:

  • It will stimulate your brain.
  • It will recharge your brain and body.
  • It will change your perspective.
  • It will keep the fire within burning brighter and longer.

Get involved:

  • Locally.
  • Regionally.
  • Statewide.
  • Nationally.

Don’t be afraid:

  • Of not knowing something.
  • Of new injuries.
  • Of new coaches.
  • Of new administrators.
  • Of new responsibilities.
  • To develop a filter.


  • With parents.
  • With coaches.
  • With teachers.
  • With the school nurse.
  • With fellow athletic trainers.
  • With local physicians.
  • With administrators.

Understand that the job:

  • Will not be a bed of roses every day.
  • Is what you make of it.
  • Is the best job in the world.
  • Is an opportunity to put your signature on something very special.


  • In the community.
  • In the school.
  • In the athletic arenas.
  • Your coaches.
  • Your administrators.
  • Your physicians.
  • Your athletes.


  • Between true injuries and social hour injuries.
  • Between participants and team members.
  • Between allies and enemies.
  • Yourself as a constant figure in your school and community.

Find balance:

  • At work.
  • At home.
  • With teams.

Document and keep detailed records and statistics:

  • Injury trends.
  • Prove your position.
  • Justify or increase your budget.
  • Show your value.
  • Increase staffing.
  • Increase the size of your facility.

Show your value:

  • Share collected information with staff, administrators, and school board members.
  • Lobby.
  • Communicate.

Brag but don’t boast:

  • Have a five-minute elevator speech ready.

And remember:

  • The 5 P’s: Prior preparation prevents poor performance.
  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Don’t forget where you came from.
  • I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
  • To have fun. Don’t worry if your job is small and your rewards are few; remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you.

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also teaches health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers' Society Hall of Fame in 2014. Cooper can be reached at: [email protected].

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