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You're a what? Athletic trainer.

You're a What?


Athletic trainers are integral members of any competitive sports program. On the sidelines or in the training room, in season and off, trainers work to keep athletes free of injury and assist in their rehabilitation if injuries do occur. To do this, they employ knowledge acquired through years of schooling and special skills developed under the direction of experienced trainers. Trainers love sports. That's one of the reasons why Lamar "Bubba' Tyer and Bernard James are professional trainers.

Training for Trainers

Bubba Tyer is head athletic trainer for the National Football League's Washington Redskins. In his office at Redskins Park, the team's training center, mementos of past seasons' glories line the walls, and the distinctive aroma of analgesic balm fills the air. "I've always loved sports,' says Tyer, "especially football.' A childhood accident prevented him from playing the game, but he actively participated in high school as team manager and student trainer.

His enthusiasm and talents were recognized by his team's coaches, who helped him win a scholarship as a student trainer at the University of Texas. After a year at UT, he transferred to Lamar University in his hometown, where he earned his bachelor's degree in physical education. While pursuing his degree, he also worked as a student trainer, learning the skills that eventually led to his present position.

The road to Redskins Park had several turning points. After graduation, Tyer joined the Marine Corps, whose teams compete at the collegiate level in several sports. Tyer served as trainer for all sports except baseball. He capped his service career as head trainer for the All Armed Forces basketball team in 1970.

Upon completion of his service obligations, Tyer returned to Lamar University to continue his studies. In 1971, the head trainer at Lamar was hired by the Redskins, and Tyer came north with him. A few years later, he became head trainer. Today, he is at the peak of his profession, head trainer for one of the NFL's premier teams and president of the Professional Athletic Trainers Society.

Like his crosstown counterpart, Bernard James is also a head trainer. He supervises athletic training for 16 intercollegiate sports at Howard University. A bear of a man, built like one of the linebackers he treats, James saw becoming a trainer as a way to combine his love for sports with an interest in medicine.

James received his bachelor's degree in physical education with a minor in biology from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and a Master of Science degree in health and safety with an emphasis in athletic training from Indiana University. Prior to his assumption of duties at Howard, he was head trainer, physical education instructor, and assistant football coach at the Community College of Baltimore. He also served on the staff of the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts of the NFL.

Preventing the Injury and Healing the Hurt

Accompanied by the rhythmic beat of a bouncing basketball reverberating through the hallway outside his office, James offered some insight into his job. "A trainer's job can be divided generally into two areas--prevention and rehabilitation,' he said, adding that much time is also spent on administration and the education of his student trainers.

"Many people think that all we do is keep the water bucket full, the locker room clean, and the athlete's ankles taped,' joked James. Athletes do guzzle gallons of water and frequently use the locker room floor for a laundry bin. Trainers do occasionally take care of these housekeeping tasks, but that is hardly their main duty. For example, the trainer is usually first on the scene when an athlete is injured. This prompt, professional response increases the athlete's chance of a speedy, healthy recovery. Equally important is preventing the injury in the first place.

Taping really is one of their important jobs. Hinged joints, such as knees and ankles, are particularly susceptible to injury. In fact, sprained ankles are the most common sports injury. The possibility, or at least the severity, of injury is lessened with expert taping.

But there is more to injury prevention than taping. Even during football season James and Tyer spend only about 2 hours a day taping, yet are on the job 10 hours or more. Checking equipment, supervising and directing strength and conditioning programs, and treating injuries fill the rest of their day.

Faulty equipment can lead to injury, so the trainer may regularly inspect equipment to insure that it will work properly. Occasionally, a trainer's expertise is required to devise special equipment for an athlete such as a special brace or pad. For Tyer, this task is particularly satisfying.

Trainers frequently devise and supervise strength and conditioning programs. Strength programs not only improve overall capabilities but reduce the possibilities of injury. For example, a player may mention that an ankle had been sprained several times. This is a clear indication that a trainer should prescribe certain exercises to strengthen it. Each case must be judged individually.

Injuries inevitably occur in sports and are generally of two varieties, macrotrauma--from a single blow or fall--or microtrauma--from repeated blows of lesser severity. Examples of microtrauma are tennis elbow and running-related injuries, such as shin splints.

Trainers employ varying methods of treatment when dealing with injuries. Ice, heat, and hydrotherapy, such as whirlpool baths, are common examples. For mild sprains and strains, the initial treatment is fairly uniform. The trainer uses ice and elastic bandages to retard swelling, elevates the injured part of the body for the same reason, and has the athlete rest as much as possible.

After initial treatment, the trainer, in consultation with the team physician, develops a rehabilitation program to help the athlete regain freedom of movement and strength. This program will usually consist of a combination of treatments and exercise. Sometimes a trainer may employ massage to increase freedom of movement. "I still use massage,' says Tyer, "because it works; and players appreciate hands-on treatment.' But massage, education, heat, and cold don't help the athlete regain strength. This comes through exercise. Tyer and his staff are on hand to assure that the athlete follows their recommendations. "The young men on this team are the cream of the crop, the best in the country. Sometimes they want to go too far, too fast, and we have to put on the brakes,' Tyer says.

Certified Skills

Athletic trainers are health professionals. Their duties demand an in-depth acquaintance with many subjects, particularly anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology--the study of anatomy in relation to movement. Both Tyer and James are certified athletic trainers, which means they have passed the rigorous standards of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). Certification is a lengthy process that includes specific educational requirements, supervised practice, and written and oral examinations.

Candidates for certification must possess a college degree. They are also required to hold current certification by the Red Cross in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or be a qualified emergency medical technician (EMT). In addition, they must either successfully complete an NATA-approved Athletic Training graduate or undergraduate program or perform an internship of a minimum of 1800 hours under the direct supervision of an NATA-certified athletic trainer.

Satisfactory completion of these requirements permits a candidate to sit for the certification examination, which includes both written and oral sections. The range of knowledge expected of trainers is shown by the written exam's six areas: Preparticipation, recognition and evaluation of injuries, management and treatment of injuries, rehabilitation, organization and administration, and education and counseling.

Both knowledge and treatment of athletic injuries are continuously evolving. To maintain certification, trainers are required to keep abreast of these changes. Every certified trainer must accumulate six continuing education units (CEU's) every 3 years. These may be acquired in a number of ways. Both Tyer and James participate annually in the NATA's National Clinical Symposium, where the latest advances in prevention and rehabilitation of injuries are discussed. In addition, Tyer and his staff conduct clinics for other trainers, for which they earn CEU's. Other options include publishing professional papers and supervising student trainers.

A Small Field

The NATA lists over 4,300 certified athletic trainers in the United States today. The recently signed NFL Players Agreement requires all NFL teams to employ certified trainers. Most major colleges and universities do the same. This is not always the case at the high school level. James believes that the opportunities for certified trainers are best at this level, although few schools can afford to hire full-time trainers. Many high school jobs are part-time positions offered to faculty members, who receive an additional

stipend for this work. Interested students should remember that teaching credentials are required for employment at the high school level.

In professional athletics, trainers can expect to start at about $25,000. At the collegiate level, $15,000 would be the base salary.

Some Final Advice

For those who aspire to careers in athletic training, both Tyer and James counsel diligence and patience. "Learn your craft,' says James, "take advantage of every opportunity to test yourself, to push yourself a little bit further.' Tyer adds, "Training is a behind-the-scenes job. Don't let your ego intrude. Work hard, be patient, and earn the confidence and respect of the coaches and players.' "The bottom line,' says James, "is that you have to love it.'

For more information regarding careers and education in athletic training contact

The National Athletic Trainers Association 1001 East 4th Street Greenville, N.C. 27834 (919) 752-1725
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 22, 1985
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