Feb 16, 2018
Working with an AT
David Hoch

As a coach, having your job run smoothly depends on creating a good working relationship with a number of people at your school — your athletic director, custodial and secretarial staffs, other coaches. If your school is lucky enough to have an athletic trainer, this is another key person you need to collaborate with.

For a successful collaboration, however, it is important to understand the roles you and your athletic trainer each play. While you are the head coach, in charge of your team and sport, the athletic trainer does not report to you. The key word is that you work with this individual. You are equal professionals with separate responsibilities. What exactly does this mean?

As the head coach, you are in charge of squad selection, skill instruction, scouting, game planning, decision making during games, supervising your assistants, and all other sport-specific items. On the other hand, an athletic trainer is the expert on everything related to injuries, rehabilitation, return-to-play decisions, and injury prevention, and he or she has the final say in these areas. Each of you have equally important, but separate, responsibilities. You both care about the athletes, but you deal with different aspects of their participation. And that is the way it has to be.

With that understanding in place, what is the best way to work with your athletic trainer? The following are some considerations for developing and maintaining a good working relationship:

Respect their role. The athletic trainer’s main objective is to treat injuries and maintain the health and safety of the athlete. Unless you are teaching an unsafe skill technique, your athletic trainer should never interfere with your instruction, coaching philosophy, or approach. By the same token, it is vital that you respect his or her education and training and don’t interfere with his or her methods of treating and rehabbing injuries.

Accept their decisions. Never downplay an injury or pressure your athletic trainer to put a player back in a game after being examined or treated. This decision belongs solely with the athletic trainer, who is only looking out for the welfare of the player. He or she is not concerned with winning a game, and shouldn’t be. While it is okay to ask questions about the status of an injured player, you should never create even the perception that you are displeased with a medical decision.

Support them publicly. Explain to the team that the athletic trainer is the expert and in total charge of anything having to do with injuries. This stance should also extend to parents, who need to understand the parameters when their son or daughter is injured.

Educate athletes. Be sure your athletes understand that they must report every injury to the athletic trainer, even if they don’t think it is serious. Any athlete who has sustained an injury must be checked out by the athletic trainer. Some injuries, like concussions, are far more serious than they might first appear.

Show appreciation. Publicly thank your athletic trainer for the extensive time and effort he or she puts in to take care of your players. When you see an athletic trainer tending to an athlete on the field or sideline during a game, realize that much more is involved behind the scenes. Your athletic trainer confers with physicians, spends hours helping athletes rehab, and calls home to check on their progress. Athletic trainers put in long hours, just like coaches, and it is important that you show gratitude for all they do.

As with most working relationships, it takes a little understanding and energy to create and maintain a good rapport with your athletic trainer. And because the health and welfare of your student-athletes depend on this individual, that effort is well worth your time.

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country.

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