Jan 29, 2015Your Next Step
Have you ever thought about volunteering with your state or district athletic trainers’ association? Doing so is a chance to further the profession and your own career at the same time.
By Jeff Stone
Jeff Stone, MEd, LAT, ATC, is the Head Athletic Trainer at Suffolk University. He most recently served as NATA District One Director (from 2004 to 2010) and was inducted into the Athletic Trainers of Massachusetts Hall of Fame in January. In August, he was named the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Athletic Trainer of the Year. He can be reached at: [email protected].
You’ve probably heard many of your colleagues talk about “giving back to the profession” by volunteering on various committees at the state, district, and national levels. I started hearing this message when I was still in school. The former Head Athletic Trainer at Northeastern, Jack Baynes, and the founder of NU’s Athletic Training Education Program, Koko Kassabian, always preached the importance of getting involved to make our profession stronger–to step up to the plate and make a difference.
At the time, I didn’t give it much thought–I was more focused on landing a job after graduation and establishing my professional standards and philosophy. But after 20-plus years of volunteering on various committees and spending time in leadership roles at every level, I know exactly what my mentors were getting at. Throughout my volunteer experiences, I have kept athletic trainers’ rights to fair compensation and equal pay at the forefront of my efforts.
I completed my most recent volunteer role last year when my six-year tenure as NATA District One Director came to an end. I have also sat on the NATA Board of Directors for six years, serving three NATA Presidents, and was a liaison to eight different NATA committees. As a district officer, I also sat on the Executive Board of the Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association (EATA) for 11 years, and managed the District One-New England Executive Council.
I am now in the midst of my second term as Medical Coordinator of the Bay State Games, which I have volunteered with since their inception in 1986. I’ve also served as President, Vice President, and Secretary of the Athletic Trainers of Massachusetts (ATOM) and sat on the ATOM Executive Board for 10 years.
Reflecting on more than two decades of conference calls, meetings, frequent flyer miles, and friendships that will last a lifetime, I realize I have learned a lot. I’ve learned how to maintain controlled balance, be a versatile multi-tasker, and roll with the punches–all while being a consummate professional in the athletic training room and remembering that the house needs cleaning and my dog Zeus needs to go for walks. I’ve also learned that without the support of my family, friends, and workplace administrators, service to the profession can be daunting and sometimes even thankless.
Finally, I’ve learned that giving back to my profession can also help me further my own career. Not only is volunteer work a great thing for your resume, but the networking opportunities are endless. There’s a good chance you’ll meet a future boss or colleague who will recommend you for the job of your dreams when you get out there and work with other people who, like you, have the profession’s best interests at heart.
My path to serving with the NATA, EATA, and ATOM started in 1989 with a chance conversation, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a handshake. I was working as Head Athletic Trainer at Natick (Mass.) High School and went to a Northeastern University football game in 1989. I stopped outside the locker room at halftime to see Jack, my mentor since attending NU in the ’70s. He was sitting outside the locker room eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when he looked up and told me that ATOM needed an acting secretary to finish a term and it was time for me to step up to the plate.
Jack reminded me that I knew many high school athletic trainers through my position at Natick and my involvement as Medical Coordinator for the Bay State Games. He also mentioned how the journalism experience I gained writing for a local paper would be a tremendous asset. In other words, ATOM needed someone who knew the gossip and could write a sorely needed newsletter for the athletics trainers of Massachusetts.
The ATOM Executive Board soon approved my appointment. At my first meeting, I was charged with establishing a newsletter and creating a membership directory, as well as making a phone tree for instant communication among the membership.
Writing the newsletter was a part of my job that was very important and I took it seriously. It was a quarterly mass mailing, collated, folded, and stamped by one of the high school health education classes I taught at Natick, where I was a three-season athletic trainer and boys’ outdoor track coach.
Remember, this was before blogs, e-mail, and cell phones. In order to fill the pages of the newsletter, I had to find the news myself. This meant meeting as many athletic trainers in the state as I could. When that year’s Bay State Games rolled around, I made it a point to personally hand each athletic trainer volunteering for medical coverage their staff shirt and information packet so I could ask each of them about their concerns, suggestions, and ideas for the newsletter.
The newsletter also included my column titled “Found on the Messy Desk of the ATOM Secretary” and featured news about athletic trainers in the state. If someone saved a life, got married, or had a baby, it was news that needed to be announced. It may not have been the most glamorous of columns, but through it I learned that connecting with the membership on a personal level was a vital key to the association’s success.
As acting secretary, I was also automatically a member of the ATOM Executive Board. This meant access to a lot of information, including pending state legislation, job vacancies, and various national directives, which put me “in the know” about ATOM and NATA happenings. Members started to call me about what was going on at the state level and for information from NATA headquarters in Dallas.
The Board met in person four times a year, and worked on the logistics of ATOM’s annual Spring Conference and Symposium. This was our real money-maker for the association, as individual states collected their own dues and membership lists fluctuated due to who was in office and what was on the state agenda.
Because of this platform and the level of communication I had with the membership, I was able to turn my temporary acting secretary role into a full term at the helm. I won the 1990 election for ATOM Secretary, and later moved up the ranks to Vice President (1992) and President (1994) of the group.
As President of ATOM, I automatically had a seat on the NATA District One Executive Council, where I was placed on the Finance Subcommittee and the Constitution and Bylaws Committee. The Council was responsible for budgeting the monies of the District that were accumulated through the EATA, which is a collection of Districts One and Two. We also organized the annual meeting and symposium and offered research and scholarship opportunities to athletic training students in New England.
I was able to share ATOM’s successes with other state association presidents in New England while getting first-hand knowledge of NATA protocols and procedures. Serving on the council also allowed me the opportunity to create an invaluable network of fellow athletic trainers whom I still contact to this day when I have a question and need help finding the answer.
After my tenure as President of ATOM concluded, I looked to expand my horizons to the district and national levels. I chaired the EATA Nominations and Elections Committee, and overhauled its election process. Then, with the support of my school’s administration and my family, I ran for the seat of District One Secretary-Treasurer in 2000.
The first step was to submit a letter of intent to the District Director, as well as a resume and curriculum vitae. The District sent out biographical info with a postcard ballot and held a fall election. A committee was selected to hand count the votes. There was no online voting or campaigning. If you wanted the position, you asked colleagues and friends, visited athletic trainers at their schools ,and relied on word of mouth to get your viewpoints across. I let my performance as ATOM Secretary and President speak for itself and it earned me the victory.
After serving as District Secretary for three years and winning re-election for a second term, I took on my biggest and most daunting challenge: running for District Director. At the time, I was working in a school system where I was not the head athletic trainer. I had been transferred from my school system’s high school to a middle school in 1995, and resigned as athletic trainer when I would not compromise the standard of care I gave student-athletes. (I continued working as an athletic trainer part-time, providing coverage on a per diem basis throughout Massachusetts, and was the host Athletic Trainer at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center in Boston.)
In the election, I had two formidable opponents who were established professionals and well known. As District Secretary, I had access to our communication networks, but could not use them to state my case. Using established e-mail networks to “campaign” was not ethical. Instead, I relied on a network of colleagues and friends to get the word out about my capabilities and successes on the Executive Council. I hit the road and got my face out there–And it worked!
I won the District One election in 2004 and was able to hit the ground running. Over the next six years, I logged many miles visiting athletic training education programs in the District, emphasizing scholarship opportunities. I encouraged nominations for honors and awards for deserving members. I filled vacancies on District and National committees. Under my tenure, District One saw 70 percent of its funds return to the states for their initiatives. And along the way, I used the monthly e-mail blog called “Notes from Stoney” that I established as District Secretary as my voice to keep the District membership informed.
BEING AN EFFECTIVE MEMBER
When you’re the leader of the band, you have to make sure that everyone is in tune. And if there is a problem, you have to address it with tact and sincerity. One thing I was forced to learn quickly while doing service work was how to work better with others.
I admit that there always seems to be some members who have a vocal opinion about your every action. It may seem like no matter what you do, you can’t please them. I called them the “Statler and Waldorf” members, named after the erstwhile balcony dwellers of The Muppet Show. You can navigate these members by holding your friends in esteem and remembering that your job is to serve the entire membership to the best of your ability, not to please just a few folks. As I moved up the leadership ladder, I got to know who my friends really were.
I also had to learn to work with others who were above me in the chain of command. When I served as District Secretary-Treasurer, I realized that the position needed to be split. Defining communication needs, as well as monitoring financial investments necessitated creating a new position for the District leadership.
The Secretary-Treasurer split was already happening in many of the 10 NATA districts. I showed the Executive Council a survey of the other NATA Districts, and how finances and the volatility of the stock market needed more “hands on” monitoring on a daily basis. Additionally, this was at a time when the NATA had just begun collecting district dues, which provided states an annual monetary allotment.
A regular financial officer became a necessity, which was communicated to the Executive Council and the retired district directors and Hall of Famers. All were in agreement, and they assisted in the necessary bylaw changes in 2004. With a new District Treasurer in place, my role as District Secretary expanded to include monitoring the district Web site, publishing a monthly newsletter/blog, and scheduling conference calls and agendas for in-person council meetings at the EATA meeting in January and the NATA Annual meeting in June.
You cannot be a committee member-officer in name only. The responsibilities and work are far greater than a line on your vitae. If you work hard, read up on the upcoming agenda, and call and ask questions prior to meetings and conference calls, you will earn the respect of the committees you are on. Showing insight on a topic that can enhance a discussion during a committee meeting may sway a vote.
My preparation for Council meetings aided me tremendously when I became a director. With all eyes on me, I had to get all necessary information to the group on a timely basis so they could digest and make a fluid decision based on the facts. I wasn’t afraid to call council members and discuss issues one-on-one to get all sides. I solicited advice from past directors and Hall of Famers. If the issue involved students, I asked athletic training students and curriculum directors for their takes.
If I learned anything as a Director, it is that you cannot do the job alone. I had the extraordinary services of District Secretary Tim Weston and District Treasurers Paul Ullucci, Gail Connolly, and Joe Scott. Without the help and assistance of quality colleagues and dedicated professionals, you cannot get the job done effectively. We had a great District One administrative team!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
Before volunteering your time to our profession, you should make sure you’re ready for the commitment. Whether you serve at the state, district, or national level, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves, commit to a cause, and work toward a common goal.
Prior to running for District One Director, I knew that the role would require new responsibilities, such as more committee involvement and mandatory attendance at executive council meetings and the annual NATA Meeting. I needed to ask myself some important questions.
First, I asked myself whether the commitment would have an impact on my elderly mother, who lives with me. If you’re going to take on extra responsibility that will require more time away from home, you will need the support of your family and friends, and it was very important to me that my mother would continue to get the best care possible.
After talking it over with my family, we figured out a system that still allows me to administer daily home healthcare for my mother (who is a healthy 91 years old and knows the score!) while my sister stays with her when I need to attend meetings. Without their support, I don’t know that I ever would have run for the position.
Another question I asked myself before starting the campaign was if the time commitment would conflict with my teaching job. Would the people who had supported me this far in my career continue to support me in my candidacy and during my tenure if I won the position?
As you move up the leadership ladder, you need the support and wisdom of your employment superiors. You need to be able to attend meetings when necessary, which means time away from your job. This can be hard for an athletic trainer who is a one-person staff, and even tougher when the athletic trainer also teaches a full load.
I was lucky to work for two supportive professionals at the time in Natick–Athletic Director John Carroll and Health and Physical Education Director Kirk Buschenfeldt. When I had to be away from campus, my athletic director hired per diem help for coverage because he understood the liability issues if there wasn’t an athletic trainer on site.
It turned out that soon after I was elected District Director, a change in school administration brought a new principal to the middle school where I was teaching who did not understand my leadership responsibilities outside of school. Upper-level administration also questioned my time commitments.
Though at first the situation with school administrators was frustrating, it afforded me the chance to step back and evaluate whether it was the job for me. Upon reflection over the first summer during my tenure as District Director, I decided to leave my teaching job and accept my current position at Suffolk. At the age of 50, I went back to my roots providing athletic training coverage again.
Here at Suffolk, I have always had the support and counsel of Athletic Director Jim Nelson, who recognizes the call to service to one’s professional organizations. He allowed me to assemble a cadre of fellow athletic trainers who were available on a per diem basis to cover the athletic training room when I was traveling. It also helps to have a supportive team physician in Dr. Peter Asnis, who is the Team Physician for the Boston Bruins as well as an Orthopedic Surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.
With a supportive athletic director at Suffolk, I hit the ground running. I got my groove back in the athletic training room while getting established as District Director.
I have had the good fortune to mostly work for athletic directors and principals who understand what athletic trainers do and why we are important members of the athletic department staff. They have also been committed to service work, volunteerism, and giving back and felt that my service brought prestige to the school.
My time as District One Director was a highlight of my athletic training career. To serve the NATA membership in governing its existing programs while enacting new initiatives was very rewarding. I had the privilege to serve with several outstanding District Directors as well as Eve Becker-Doyle and the entire NATA-Dallas staff. I have maintained lifetime friendships and cherished memories through my association with the Board of Directors.
Having the District membership put faith and confidence in me as their representative was also very humbling. It makes you want to do the best job you can to make your profession continue to grow and prosper. You have to remember that a lot of people depend on how you think and vote. And when your tour of duty is over, you will return to the “sidelines,” standing with those you just served.
I was fortunate to have excellent role models in District One who were supportive and encouraging. When the EATA had its 50th anniverary in 2000, I was invited to sit at “the table” and shoot the breeze. It was an invitation of approval and acceptance, and their acknowledgement of my leadership potential. I will never forget that gesture.
Putting your name in for a committee appointment is as simple as dropping a note to the state leadership, or a recommendation from a mentor. If a personal introduction to a committee chair is available, offer your services without being a pest. Follow up an introduction with a note or e-mail with your contact information. Since the NATA established the Involve & Evolve mission, many people are stepping up and offering their help. Don’t get down if your first efforts don’t succeed. If you make a good impression, folks will remember you.
My final word of advice is to not be afraid to get involved. There are many opportunities for service in our profession, and the more we can each give back to the profession, the stronger it will grow.
Both veteran athletic trainers and those new to the work force are needed to keep the profession strong and vibrant. To read more about how author Jeff Stone has learned to “cherish the past and embrace the future,” look for “Through the Generations” in the blog section of our Web site at: www.Training-Conditioning.com/blogs.php.