May 22, 2018
Creating an Unbreakable Sport Performance Team

With fractions of a second or inches of a play being the difference between wins and losses, it is no wonder athletes are turning to all aspects of sports science to find a winning edge.  Multiple disciplines contribute to an athletes’ ultimate sport performance, including certified health practitioners, such as the Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and Registered Dietitian (RD), and trained coaching staff including a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  Each of these disciplines remain distinct in their expertise, yet, if they are coordinated in their care, they will build on an athlete’s training from all angles, ultimately resulting in injury prevention and improved performance outcomes. 

To reach the athlete’s peak performance, each discipline must play an active role in communicating their expertise while respecting the knowledge of the others.  In many athletic departments, the ATC is seen as the “hub of the wheel,” responsible for coordinating an athlete’s health care.  As the ATC assesses an athlete’s current playing status and communicates to the team any recent or long-standing concerns, the rest of the team can adjust their plan of action.  The CSCS understands all aspects of muscle development so an athlete has the power and agility their sport demands.  Their results are incredibly influenced by the role of nutrition.  The RD is trained to provide medical nutrition therapy and many working in athletics have a further specialization as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).  With this specialty, the RD CSSD can help an athlete understand how to use food to fuel their performance, respond to conditioning to influence body composition, and recover from injury or illness.  Communication and preparation become the key factors in organizing an elite training program. 

In the fast-paced athletic setting, it would be beneficial to have regular high performance team meetings so all disciplines are on the same page.  Some athletic programs collaborate weekly or monthly with all members of the performance team to identify specific athlete or team-wide goals so each discipline can plan their program accordingly and then share their plan of action.  With the entire performance team understanding what to expect in the upcoming week or month, this facilitates both staff and athlete accountability. 

In well-resourced programs, the nutrition program adjusts training table menus and facility fuel stations to achieve team and individual goals.  Individual nutrition counseling provides personalized meal plans to achieve outcomes.  Team nutrition education can reflect the current training focus.  No matter the level of nutrition support, if there is an RD CSSD consulting with the team, the ATC and CSCS will benefit by having a nutrition professional explain not only the “what” in fueling for performance but also the “why” and “how” in order to influence the dietary patterns of athletes.  

Athletic programs may have access to a DXA machine, BodPod, skin calipers or other forms of body composition measurements.  Because body weight and composition is an outcome of energy expenditure, best practices include Sports RD’s performing all body composition analyses to offer point-of-care nutrition assessment and guidance.  The Sports RD would be a great resource to advise appropriate and achievable body composition for specific athletes, given current height, weight, history of body composition and playing position standards.  

In reality, continuous care happens in the daily or weekly interactions between disciplines.  Often, it is in the brief updates shared in athletic training or strength room conversations that influence improved care.   Frequent communications and respectful relationships ensure that the athlete has access to the most current, evidence-based treatment and training programs.  The synergistic effects of an interdisciplinary care team, with each discipline bringing their expertise to the table, takes athlete care to the next level in sports performance, ultimately creating an athletic department built on the strengths of all sport performance professionals. 

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