Jan 29, 2015Your Off-Season
With summer around the corner, there are plenty of ways athletic trainers can use the upcoming “down time” to expand personal and professional horizons.
By Kenny Berkowitz
Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: [email protected].
During a typical basketball season, Jenny Moshak, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine at the University of Tennessee, works day after day, week after week, and month after month. Overseeing sports medicine, athletic training, and strength and conditioning for Tennessee’s 11 women’s teams leaves little time for anything else–including her latest passion, bicycle touring. So once she finished the 2005-06 season, she took on the biggest challenge she could find: a 2,900-mile cross country cycling trip.
“It was really satisfying to finally do something for myself,” she says. “As athletic trainers, we’re always taking care of other people. But if we’re going to last in this profession, we need to make ourselves a priority as well.”
Moshak returned to Knoxville feeling rejuvenated, and she’s convinced the tour did more than recharge her batteries–it made her a better athletic trainer. Since coming back, she’s urged colleagues to schedule more time for themselves and emphasized the importance of making the most of the off-season. “If we don’t set aside some time to do something different,” saysMoshak, “nobody else will do it for us.”
For some athletic trainers, that means tackling their own physical challenge or volunteering with a different population. For others, it means refocusing their career by presenting at professional conferences, creating a summer camp for high school athletes, or interning with a pro team. In this article, five athletic trainers talk about how the lessons they’ve learned from summers past have made them better practitioners today.
LENDING A HAND
From August through June, Eric McCutchan, MS, LAT, ATC, Athletic Trainer at Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind., works with student-athletes at five middle schools and one high school. When college sports seasons overlap in February and November, he also provides spot coverage for DePauw University basketball, softball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. But for the last nine summers, he has turned his attention to a different kind of athlete. He volunteers for the Special Olympics, taking the opportunity to challenge himself by helping those with intellectual disabilities.
“I started after the summer of my freshman year at the University of Indianapolis because it seemed like a good way to get some extra experience, and I’ve gone back every year since,” says McCutchan. “Treating mentally disabled athletes broadens my horizons, gives me a different perspective on the athletes I see the rest of the year, and provides another way to fill my toolbox.”
For McCutchan, covering the summer games has also helped him gain insight into his own experience with Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that makes it easier for him to concentrate on the medical details of an injury than to interact socially with his injured athletes. “I’ve acquired a lot of skills since I was diagnosed in high school, and I’m much less socially awkward than I used to be,” he says. “But I can still see some of myself in the Special Olympians with autism. I understand how they work from the inside, and that makes watching them really rewarding–win or lose, they’re all so happy to be there.”
At first, McCutchan expected he’d have to adapt his approach to athlete care, but he’s ended up making only minor adjustments. With deaf athletes, he’s learned to communicate through gestures, and with hearing athletes, he focuses on delivering simple, uncluttered explanations. When injured athletes won’t let him touch them, he evaluates them visually. When athletes lack the patience to sit still, he does his best to work as quickly as possible. And in most cases, Special Olympians have guardians nearby to help navigate the process.
The most common injuries are the same ones he might see at any middle school or high school contest. “The key is to treat Special Olympians the same as everyone else,” says McCutchan. “I don’t think of them as being too different from the rest of us. They can usually understand English, even if they can’t always speak it fully, so I use my normal talking voice.
“With some of them, you can only do as much as they’ll allow you to do,” he continues. “But in general, they’re pretty accommodating because they know they’re injured and they understand you’re supposed to lay hands on them to determine what’s wrong and return them to playing shape.”
McCutchan believes covering the Special Olympics has taught him to use his time more efficiently, gain empathy for his athletes, and sharpen his listening skills. His supervisors at the hospital support him by scheduling around his commitment to the games, which are run locally by Special Olympics Indiana.
There are Special Olympics chapters in every state and in over 100 countries, and McCutchan says anyone who is interested can learn more at www.specialolympics.org. Local organizers are always looking for help with coverage, from athletic training students and certified athletic trainers alike.
“Don’t be afraid to volunteer,” advises McCutchan. “If you see an opportunity, take it. Besides all the personal benefits, it shines a positive light on the profession for all of us.”
At the start of his career, Kent Scriber, EdD, PT, ATC, Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at Ithaca College, spent the off-seasons pursuing his graduate education. It took three summers to earn a master’s degree in health education, and years later, another three summers to complete the bulk of his doctorate in physical education and exercise physiology.
After 38 years in the profession, he still uses summers to learn as much as he can, attending countless state, regional, and national conferences over the decades. In 1978, with a master’s degree and six years on the job, he gave his first presentation at an NATA national meeting, and he’ll never forget it. Co-leading a workshop on therapeutic modalities, he loved standing at the front of the room, and more than 100 presentations later, he still does.
“I’d always enjoyed attending workshops and listening to speakers, and I remember thinking early on, ‘I could present something, too,'” says Scriber, who was inducted into the NATA Hall of Fame in 2000. “So when one of my former professors asked if I’d be interested in co-presenting in Las Vegas, I said yes. I’m glad I did, because presenting turned out to be a great way to establish myself in the profession and an even better way to stay involved over the years.”
Since that first session, Scriber has presented on a variety of topics, ranging from the potential dangers of nutritional supplements to the importance of balancing work and life. Some topics he’d already written about extensively, while he needed to begin his research for others from square one. But no matter how much or how little he knew at the start, he’s always found presenting to be a valuable way to learn more.
“It’s a lot like teaching,” he says. “If you’re going to present to your peers, many of whom have as much experience and knowledge as you do, you really need to know what you’re talking about. Every time you present is an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and keep up to date on the latest research.”
Scriber sees presenting as a valuable tool for athletic trainers at all levels of experience, and he encourages younger people to begin by giving a poster presentation locally. “For most athletic trainers, posters are a little less intimidating than an oral presentation,” he says. “You can do a case study or prepare a poster on some of your research, and when people come by to review your work, you can talk more about it. After you get your feet wet, you can think about using your research as the basis for an oral presentation at a state meeting. If you do a good job, you’ll probably be asked to do it again.
“But you can’t just sit back and expect people to ask you to present,” continues Scriber. “It’s like most aspects of this profession. You’ve got to actively pursue the opportunities and commit yourself to getting involved in the process.”
With some experience under your belt, signing up to present at the national conference is as simple as clicking a couple of boxes on the NATA Web site. Though the number of oral presentations is limited by time and space, there’s generally more than enough room to accommodate poster presentations, with several hours set aside for questions and answers.
Scriber believes there are three keys to remember when creating any presentation: relevant content, effective organization, and efficient use of the audience’s time. “It’s not about how much information you have,” he says. “It’s about how you share your experience to make that information useful to other people, from athletic training students to seasoned veterans.”
During the school year, Chris Orgeman, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Ministry Health Care-Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk, Wis., spends most afternoons and evenings at Tomahawk High School, where he provides assessments, rehabs, and coverage for 16 varsity teams. It’s the largest part of his job, so when school is out in June and July, he needs to fill his time–and continue generating revenue for his clinic. Last spring, an idea struck him: Why not host a summer camp for high school athletes?
“To succeed, every camp needs a niche,” he says. “I thought about targeting specific sports, choosing one gender, or focusing on a particular area of the body. That led me back to my injury records, where I found a trend toward shoulder injuries, especially in girls’ volleyball and girls’ swimming, which are two of our larger teams. There weren’t any major injuries, but there were several overuse injuries from muscle imbalances or a general lack of preparation. It was clearly a place where a camp could make a difference, so that’s where I started.”
Orgeman talked to the school’s swimming coach, volleyball coach, and athletic director, who agreed to support the idea. It was an easy sell–after all, a shoulder camp would help athletes improve strength, prevent injuries, stay focused on their goals, and begin preseason in top form.
From there, he approached his clinic manager and administration, who quickly saw the camp as a win-win situation. First, it was a great way to keep Tomahawk athletes connected to their athletic trainer year-round. Second, it was an opportunity for the clinic to demonstrate its commitment to preventive care. Third, apart from the minimal expense of printing brochures, there would be little or no overhead in hosting a camp at the high school.
After getting the go-ahead for a four-week camp, Orgeman reached out to his clinic’s physical therapists for advice, researched shoulder exercises, and began designing a rotation of daily hour-long workouts. With the athletic director, he scheduled a time when the school gym was available, and with his clinic manager, he set a price of $30 per person, which helped cover his salary. Clinic staff members created a brochure, and along with spreading the news to their players, coaches invited Orgeman to publicize the camp at their May pre-summer meeting.
It worked. Fifteen girls (about one-third of the two targeted teams) signed up, and a few more athletes joined during the camp’s second week. As a result, Orgeman saw far fewer overuse injuries involving the shoulder that fall. At the same time, all the research he did to prepare helped him grow increasingly confident in planning strength training and rehab for the shoulder. And everyone began the season with a new rapport.
“We had a blast,” says Orgeman. “The kids worked hard and did all the things I asked of them. But more than that, I built relationships, especially with the incoming freshmen and sophomores who didn’t yet know me. They saw how hard I pushed them at the camp, and they know I’ll work as hard as I can to get them back into their sport if they’re injured. Having seen me every day at camp, the athletes feel comfortable talking to me.”
Building on last summer’s momentum, Orgeman plans to host the shoulder camp again and offer a second camp for cross country runners–another of the high school’s largest teams–to develop lower leg strength. To expand the camp’s reach, he’s hoping to include athletes from two nearby high schools, and plans to use brochures, Facebook, and personal appearances to spread the word.
“I learned that if you offer a good product with good value, people will want to participate,” Orgeman says. “The key is to keep an open mind and identify a need. Don’t be shy about asking coaches, administrators, and athletes what they want. I saw injuries that were happening, and I took a step toward preventing them.”
CLIMBING THE LADDER
Summer internships have been an essential part of charting an unconventional career path for Eric Laudano, MHS, ATC. After covering football for two years at Yale University and for the Arena Football League’s New England Sea Wolves, he spent three summers and one full year as an NFL athletic training intern, which led to a job as Head Football Athletic Trainer at Indiana State University. Two years later, after two stints as On-Field Athletic Trainer for the NFL Combine, the 31-year-old was hired as the University of Pennsylvania’s Head Athletic Trainer and Manager of Sports Medicine.
“To become an NCAA Division I football athletic trainer, I had to go after opportunities at the highest level,” says Laudano. “In athletic training, you have to be at the top of your game at every moment. Every day brings new challenges, and when you’re an NFL intern, those challenges are magnified.”
His first NFL summer internship came in 2002, following his second year as an assistant athletic trainer at Yale. The openings aren’t typically advertised, so after hearing about the internships from his head athletic trainer, Laudano sent resumes to all 32 NFL teams, received half a dozen responses, and accepted an offer from the Buffalo Bills. He arrived at training camp feeling nervous, excited, and eager to start, and by the end of that first 12-hour workday, he understood exactly what was expected of him.
“To get ahead as an intern, you’ve got to jump right in,” says Laudano. “You’re not there to take over, you’re there to make the full-time athletic trainers’ jobs easier, whether that means making ice bags, treating injuries, or taping athletes. Some tasks are mundane, but there’s pressure to do them correctly and establish trust from the beginning. That way, the full-time athletic trainers know they don’t have to check and double-check your work.”
Laudano’s responsibilities included setting up and cleaning the athletic training room, taking on-field temperature readings, stocking coolers and refrigerators, unpacking supplies, filling ice baths, driving players to medical appointments, and assisting with treatments and rehabs. The following spring, he rejoined the Bills for a year-long internship, in which his duties expanded to include supervising student athletic trainers and summer interns and assisting full-time staff members with evaluations, treatments, and rehabs.
He could have remained with the Bills for another summer, but instead chose to broaden his NFL horizons by interning with the New York Giants in 2004 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005. The tasks and approaches at the three clubs were generally similar, but the longer he worked, the more he learned.
“As an NFL intern, if all you notice is how well the athletic trainers tape, you’re missing the most important parts of the experience,” says Laudano. “By keeping your eyes open at all times, you watch how the full-time athletic trainers interact with athletes, coaches, and the strength and conditioning staff. You see them managing practices, taking care of injuries, and supervising their staff. That’s how you really take advantage of an internship.”
Ten years after graduating from Keene State College, which has no varsity football program, Laudano currently oversees eight full-time athletic trainers, four part-time staff members, and 1,000 athletes competing in 32 sports, which he credits in part to his time in the NFL. He’s maintained contact with his friends in the Bills, Giants, and Steelers organizations, and is invited to work the sidelines when the Bills come to his area. And no matter how challenging the experience, he recommends NFL internships without reservation.
“When you’re at an NFL training camp, you can expect to work long, hard days,” says Laudano. “It tests your character, and anyone who wants to work at that level needs thick skin and an open mind. If you take advantage of the opportunity and work as hard as you can, you’ll come out of there as the best athletic trainer you can be. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
ON THE ROAD
To better understand her athletes–and herself–Jenny Moshak used her 2006 vacation to take on the challenge of a lifetime. With little bicycle touring experience outside Tennessee, she signed up with America By Bicycle for a 27-day ride from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Savannah, Ga.
“It was fantastic,” says Moshak. “We rode 122 miles on the first day, and even though it wasn’t a leisurely pace, we weren’t cranking all that hard. We thought if every day was as easy as the first, we’d be golden. Instead, we ran into snow, hail, rain, and 25 mph headwinds. We had roads so rough our whole bodies would vibrate, mile after mile. But on the last day, everybody was so super-hyped, we could have ridden another 500 miles. It was an amazing feeling to know we’d accomplished what we set out to do.”
She started preparing months in advance, and from the beginning had complete confidence in her physical ability to complete the ride. She practiced riding in the worst conditions she could find, learning to eat and drink without losing speed, cycling every day to and from school, and adding miles on a stationary bicycle between commitments with the Lady Vols. She wasn’t as sure she could handle the mental and emotional strain, so she reached out to people around her for help.
She talked to sports psychologists, who helped her create an “anchoring vision” for the trip, choose a motivational song, and monitor her self-talk. She consulted with a nutritionist, who helped plan a vegetarian diet with round-the-clock eating to replace the 400 calories she’d burn during each hour on the road. With fellow athletic trainers she compiled a long list of her strengths as a person, and she worked closely with staff members to establish a plan for keeping Tennessee’s sports medicine program running while she was on the road.
Just as she challenges her student-athletes to set goals, Moshak set one for herself: to enjoy every mile from start to finish. Although she had no formal responsibilities for the trip, by the first day she was answering questions from other riders and showing them how to warm up in the mornings, massage their legs at night, and reduce the strain on their bodies in between. Without access to the equipment she uses at Tennessee, Moshak found herself rediscovering the benefits of manual techniques, including muscle energy, myofascial work, and strain/counterstrain to help fellow cyclists through the process.
“There was a lot of focus on recovery, and I talked a lot of riders into taking ice baths, doing leg elevations, and stimulating the core stabilizers,” says Moshak. “They were very eager to learn, and because they were such a goal-oriented group, the experience was remarkably similar to working with my student-athletes.”
At the end of every day on the road, Moshak checked in with her staff, handling some questions by e-mail and others by telephone. And even though her athletes had a hard time understanding why anyone would want to cover 2,900 miles by bicycle, Moshak is convinced the trip brought them closer together and gave her a clearer sense of their experience as student-athletes.
“The trip gave me a lot of credibility with our teams and a deeper understanding of the effort they must expend to accomplish their goals,” she says. “I thought I was a pretty good motivator to begin with, but this helped me see the struggles they go through, and that’s made me better at my job.
“As athletic trainers, we need to be role models both physically and mentally,” Moshak continues. “This is really an endurance profession, and if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others. Coming back from the ride, I realized that once I’d taken care of myself, I could give back to others on a much higher level.