Jan 29, 2015
Summer Fun

The Husker Athletic Training Camp at the University of Nebraska has been showing high schoolers what athletic training is all about for almost 10 years.

By Jerry Weber & Dr. Jeff Rudy

Jerry Weber, ATC, PT, is Associate Director of Athletic Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Nebraska. He will be inducted into the NATA Hall of Fame this June and can be reached at: [email protected]. Jeff Rudy, PhD, ATC, is Director of Athletic Training Education and an Assistant Athletic Trainer at Nebraska. He can be reached at: [email protected]. The authors serve as Co-Directors of Nebraska’s Husker Athletic Training Camp.

Every summer, two dozen high school students descend upon the University of Nebraska campus for our three-day Husker Athletic Training Camp. We started holding the camp for students interested in athletic training in 1992 to show attendees more about our profession. Since then, interest in the camp has steadily grown.

While the camp has proven to be a rewarding experience for both the campers and the athletic trainers who serve as teachers and mentors, making it a successful event is no easy feat. When the three days are over each summer, we always wonder, “Why did we put ourselves through this again?”

Keeping up with a group of high-energy teenagers is exhausting, the department doesn’t generate much income from the registration fees, and the logistics of finding guest speakers, figuring out overnight accommodations, and ensuring everyone is happy around the clock are time consuming. But year after year, the positives outweigh the negatives, and soon after camp is out we find ourselves sitting down to plan for next year.

First and foremost, our summer athletic training camp is a great way to increase exposure for our school and athletic training education program. Many of the attendees are from small, remote towns without any colleges or universities close by, so they don’t know a lot about college life and how higher education can be an option for them after they graduate from high school.

We’ve found that a good number of students use the camp as a college visit to see what the University of Nebraska is like. Spending a few days on campus in the dorms and with the staff gives them a much more complete view of the university than they might get from a campus visit that lasts only a few hours. A large percentage of the students who attend our camp eventually enroll here.

Another benefit is that we can show more people what the athletic training profession has to offer. High school students at schools that don’t have athletic trainers may not know a lot about athletic training because they simply have no mentors or role models in their hometowns. The Husker summer camp provides an opportunity for the students to meet certified athletic trainers and better understand our line of work.

In this article, we’ll talk about what we think has made the Husker Athletic Training Camp successful. However, our way isn’t the only way to operate a flourishing camp. There are lots of different variables to consider, like how many days to run the camp, if it should be an overnight camp or a day camp, how many campers you should accept, and how many athletic trainers you’ll need to help you teach the sessions. Determining these details will depend on your campus facilities and level of interest.

CAMP PROGRAMMING

So what are you going to do with the campers while they’re on campus? Start by thinking about exactly what you want them to learn during the camp.

The majority of them won’t have taken a course on human anatomy. Thus, camp material should stay on a basic level so the students can follow along and not get bogged down trying to learn about complicated injuries and rehabilitation programs.

When coming up with our curriculum, we are very careful not to mislead high school students into thinking they are qualified to make critical decisions about the healthcare of athletes based on the content of a three-day summer camp. Rather, we want to inspire them to continue with the learning process and return home with some basic athletic training skills. Here are some things to consider when creating your curriculum:

Spend the most time on the most common injuries. Athletes suffer a lot more ankle sprains than cases of sub acute anterior compartment syndrome of the lower leg. So time spent talking about the taping, evaluation, and rehabilitation of ankle sprains is going to have a much greater impact.

Make sure they understand that injuries can be very serious. Most minor sports injuries can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. We make an effort to stress this point during camp. However, it is important to also tell the campers that sometimes injuries are very serious and beyond the scope of an athletic trainer’s care.

We spend a lot of time talking about minor sports injuries, but we also provide students a set of guidelines that explains when an injury might need more thorough evaluation or advanced treatment. This includes discussions about emergency action plans and their importance on high school and college campuses.

Keep it moving. Sitting through seven to eight hours of lectures is a challenge for even the most mature learners. For the average high school student, it’s nearly impossible. Interspersing lab activities and hands-on exercises is a must. Changing locations, taking stretch and snack breaks, or playing games that involve movement are all good ideas for keeping campers active and alert.

Remember your target audience. Because the campers likely won’t have much background in biology, anatomy, physiology, or nutrition, you may have to define common terms athletic trainers use every day in a way that is easy for high school students to understand. Also keep in mind that the maturity level of the campers might pose a challenge. For example, while it may be fine to discuss groin injuries and injuries to the external genitals with a college class, this same discussion might shock or embarrass a high school crowd.

Plotting out the day. A typical day at the Husker camp starts at 6:30 a.m. with wakeup calls and breakfast. We then move as a group to the camp sessions. We usually start with a 30- to 45-minute presentation on a special topic from a guest speaker before the rest of the morning mini-topic sessions.

After lunch, we have a main topic session where we lecture about a broad subject such as ankle injuries, followed by a hands-on lab session, which might include performing common stretches, demonstrating special orthopedic tests, and practice taping, wrapping, or bracing. We cluster the sessions by body region so that by the end of camp, we’ve covered the lower body, upper body, and the head, neck, and spine.

To end the camp day, we all have dinner together and then do a group activity like watching a movie or going on a quick field trip off campus. We have a set curfew of 10:45 p.m. and make sure everyone is in their assigned dorm room before “lights out” at 11.

SPECIAL GUESTS

We’ve found that guest speaker slots are great learning tools to include in our camp curriculum. Instead of campers becoming bored by the same faces and voices over three days, we ask fellow university employees to contribute an hour of their time and talk to the campers at “mini topic” sessions each morning. This also gives the camp organizers (us) and the athletic trainers working at the camp a bit of a break.

We are lucky here at Nebraska to have an accredited undergraduate athletic training education program, so we have easy access to veteran classroom educators who are happy to speak on specific topics. We also ask other university employees who have expertise in areas related to athletic training to hold discussions. For example, every year our equipment manager does a presentation on how to check the fit and maintain the safety of football equipment. We’ve also had a registered dietitian talk about hydration and sports drinks. All presenters receive a small stipend to compensate them for their time.

Another group of possible guest speakers are graduate assistants and even undergraduate students. Aside from questions about athletic training classes at Nebraska, our campers like to ask the college students about daily campus life, the freshman dorms, and what it’s like to be on the sideline at a Husker football game. The high school kids tend to relate to our students really well since they’re close in age.

Because we use our camp as a recruiting tool for both the university and the athletic training education program, we also set aside a block of time for someone from Nebraska’s academic advising or college recruiting departments to come and talk to the campers. High school students (and even their parents) are often unaware of how to apply to college, what scholarships might be available, how to declare a major, or 100 other items that seem so basic to those of us who work in a college setting.

Having someone from the academic side of the school come talk to the students is a great opportunity for them to get answers to their questions. We usually have at least one camper every year who doesn’t think that college is a possibility for them until the academic guest speaker dares them to dream.

DON’T FORGET THE FUN

While the intent of the Husker Athletic Training camp is to provide education to our campers, we sincerely want them to enjoy themselves, too. Here are some of the activities we have on our schedule that always prove to be a good time.

Pizza party on the turf: For many campers from the state of Nebraska, a trip to Memorial Stadium is a dream. One night, instead of eating in the dorm dining hall, we have pizza delivered and let the campers play flag football on the stadium turf.

Facility and campus tours: The campers really like to get a behind-the-scenes look at some of Nebraska’s facilities, so we conduct a guided tour. They are especially excited to see the Husker football locker room, and many pose for pictures in front of their favorite player’s locker. Being able to see the trophy cases and memorabilia and check out the stadium view from a skybox is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of these kids.

Presentation plusses: Have you ever seen a navel orange with a penetrating head wound? Our campers have, during our presentation on wound care. Have you ever smashed a jelly donut to demonstrate a disc rupture? Our campers have learned to dodge the filling. Have you ever raced to see who can dig up a matched set of football hip, thigh, and buttock pads out of a large bin, and then get geared up for football practice as quickly as possible? Our campers participate in this race each year. These are some ways we try to incorporate fun activities into our sessions.

Social night: We take a few hours one evening to do something totally unrelated to the camp. There is a minor league baseball team that plays within walking distance of campus, so sometimes we’ll take a field trip to see a game. Even just having a popcorn and movie night in one of the athletic lounges lets the campers relax and have fun in a casual atmosphere.

BUDGET BASICS

As camp organizers, we get to use our creative juices to develop the curriculum, figure out who might make a good guest speaker, and plan the fun activities. But eventually we have to get down to the nitty gritty, too, and that means setting a budget. These are the basic items we plan our budget around:

Number of campers: Due to the need to make the camp cost effective and to be sure that it is worth the time and trouble of the directors and staff, we set our minimum number of campers at 10. On the other hand, due to facility and housing limits, we cap the camp at 24 campers. Beyond the physical limitations, we feel a larger group could be difficult to manage, and it would be a challenge to “herd” everyone across campus to different activities.

Staff salaries: Obviously you’ll want to provide your staffers with appropriate compensation for the time and talent they are investing in your camp. In a typical year, we have five or six certified athletic trainers and five or six guests who teach, and two or three graduate assistants or students who assist with labs. All presenters are compensated at the same rate of about $40 per hour. As camp co-directors, we carry the bulk of the teaching load, and we also supervise the dorms and dining halls and are on hand for all of the camp sessions. So we draw an administrative stipend in addition to the teaching stipend.

Room and board: We house campers in the dormitories and use the campus dining facilities for our meals. With standard rates per night and per meal set by the campus housing and dining authorities, it’s easy for us to figure out exactly what these expenses will be. If we have any commuters who don’t stay on campus overnight, we offer them a discounted rate.

T-shirts and other items: All campers get a Husker Athletic Training Camp T-shirt. We purchase plain shirts at wholesale from our athletic department uniform supplier and pay a local screen printing business to adorn them. We also frequently have pens, lanyards, baseball caps, and other items vendors have given us that we give to campers.

Notebooks and other educational materials: We have developed our own printed notebooks for the campers, and we pay to have the pages copied and bound into three-ring binders. Other materials include PowerPoint slides for our lectures, educational handouts, and anatomy diagrams. You could use pre-packaged educational materials from a textbook company, but these might be a little bit more expensive.

Campus facility use fees: Our athletic department charges a per capita daily fee for all camps held on campus to pay for things like custodial and cleaning services. This is definitely an area you should investigate as it can vary greatly from school to school.

Insurance and medical releases: The university requires that any camp held on campus purchase a liability insurance policy. For a low-risk camp like ours, the fee is about $2.50 per camper. And because our campers are under 18 years of age, we are also required to have an updated physician release and signed consent to treat form from a parent or guardian. Again, these requirements likely differ from campus to campus, so you’ll need to explore the requirements at your school.

Advertising and mailings: Several years ago, we invested in developing a camp brochure. Since then, we have it updated each year, which one of our campus administrative assistants graciously does at no cost. (A link to download our latest brochure can be found at: www.huskers.com/athleticmedicine.)

We also maintain a database of all the high school athletic directors in the state and e-mail brochures to them each year. And we post the brochure on the athletic medicine Web page with the other Husker camp listings, so there is minimal advertising cost for us. If you send out brochures via post mail, you’ll need to factor in the extra cost.

Holding a summer athletic training camp is a big undertaking, but it can be a lot of fun for the campers and a great learning experience. When we inevitably ask ourselves why we decided to hold the camp again, thoughts about us being exhausted, not making much money, and all the time we spent figuring out how to make things run smoothly are quickly replaced with memories of the campers’ smiles, the look on their faces when they have an “Aha!” moment, and their exclamations about what a good time they had and how they can’t wait to come back next year.

Sidebar: SOCIAL STUDY

One of the keys to a successful camp is remembering the campers are high school age. This is important not only when creating the curriculum, but also when coming up with camp rules and handling logistics like scheduling free time during the day and sleeping arrangements.

Though we hope each camper’s main goal is to learn more about athletic training, we also know that they are meeting new friends and are often very green when it comes to developing relationships. We keep the campers separated by gender on different floors in the dormitories, but we are not ignorant to the fact that camp romances do blossom. Thus there are clear rules about conduct in the dorms, the campers have a curfew, and we chaperone the students as closely as we can.

We try to also be especially aware of any kids who tend to isolate or peel off from the group, and we keep a close eye on them. For some campers, these three days are the first or longest stretch of time they have been away from home. We try to be attentive to these kids and offer them a little extra warmth and support.

There are always some socially awkward campers who are uncomfortable trying to fit into a larger group. So we make it a point to sit with these kids at lunch, involve them in our discussions, and purposefully match the campers up ourselves during group activities so no one feels left out.




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