Apr 2, 2018
Two for One
Larry Cooper

For this piece, I was asked to talk about how and why I became both a high school teacher and an athletic trainer. I got started on this path decades ago when I was in college.

At the time, there was no standalone athletic trainer major available. For this reason, most people who were interested in athletic training got their degree in some form of education with a specialization in athletic training. This made us more likely to gain employment in a school district because we were dual-credentialed. Money was tight for school districts, and it increased the likelihood of getting a full-time job if you could wear multiple hats. This was considered to be the gold standard of employment in the secondary schools by the NATA.

After I graduated college, I had the opportunity to be the first athletic trainer in the Arlington County (Va.) School District. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation for employment. The district was full of forward-thinkers who saw the importance of a full-time athletic trainer hired by the school district. I also had the opportunity to develop the athletic training program, position requirements, and job description. Further, the administration supported and promoted volunteerism. This is where I was encouraged to immerse myself in my job and our profession and make a difference.

Seeing athletes both in the classroom and during sports helps me to understand their symptoms, frustrations, and complications from certain injuries… You learn to read their body language better and can read between the lines when they present symptoms.

Because of these experiences early in my professional career, I was able to develop and nurture the love for both teaching and athletic training. Now, I hold dear the opportunity to teach in a traditional classroom, as well as be the athletic trainer. Some might think this is crazy because of the amount it adds to my workload, but I truly believe it has enriched my life more than I could have ever imagined.

Let me attempt to explain. I currently teach sports medicine, health, and physical education at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa. I have the pleasure of interacting with students in an academic situation, as well as the athletic arena. It’s complementary when you connect with students in both of these worlds because you’re able to share in all of their accomplishments and console them during the disappointments. Students truly appreciate you being there to care for them and help them grow as people, students, and athletes. Just like anyone, they admire those who show support and are constants in their lives. It can be comforting, reassuring, and add a sense of stability.

In addition, from a safety standpoint, seeing athletes both in the classroom and during sports helps me to understand their symptoms, frustrations, and complications from certain injuries, such as concussions. You learn to read their body language better and can read between the lines when they present symptoms because you have seen them move about, walk down the hall, interact with their peers, and sit through a class.

Serving as both teacher and athletic trainer also helps you understand student-athletes’ motivations, goals, and focus in life. They, in turn, have the chance to see you in a different light, which can further develop the level of trust you have with them.

A final unique aspect of this dual role is that many athletes take the sports medicine class I teach. We can discuss an injury or treatment in class, and then they can see me put those concepts into action that night at an athletic event. This helps them understand the role of the athletic trainer, the educational requirements, and the skill set that we use every day. With continued exposure, they understand the purpose of the athletic trainer, which will hopefully improve the level of health care provided to the next generation of secondary school student-athletes.

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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