Director of Athletic Training, Cabot High School
"My job is to fix what is broken, and I felt helpless as my student athletes were trying to process why they couldn't play."
I have been very fortunate over the course of my career to work in many different job settings as it pertains to the profession of athletic training. In each of those stops I have tried to learn and take something that I could apply at my next position. Secondary schools became a calling that I kept finding myself returning too. I would leave the secondary school setting but found myself coming back to it because I feel that it is where our profession is needed the most.
Students play at this level for the love of the game, for their teammates, and for the pride of their community. Of course, some want to further their playing careers at the next level, but it is athletics in its purest form. There is something different about Friday Night Lights that is not always captured on Saturdays and Sundays.
Also, I believe that we have the medical model backwards when it pertains to adolescent student athletes versus their college/professional counterparts. Secondary School athletes are minors, they are developing cognitively/skeletally, and they are our future. No secondary school student athlete should have prolonged health issues from participating in secondary school sports. It is my belief that these students should have the plethora of healthcare professionals working on their behalf to provide collaborative care.
The issues that we see nowadays with mental health, overuse injuries, burn out, early specialization, concussions, to name a few, are the things that make me wish that we had the collaborative healthcare that is found at the next levels of athletics beyond high school. This is why I am so thankful to the administration at Cabot Public Schools for allowing me to bring my visions of collaborative healthcare to the student athletes within our district. At Cabot Public Schools we have five full time licensed athletic trainers, we have two full time strength and conditioning coaches, we work very closely with our school nurses/counselors, we are fortunate to have great working relationships with our physical therapist, EMS, and a medical oversight committee made up of every discipline of medicine.
We were one of the first high schools to get a SidelineER® tent. To stay in compliance with HIPAA and FERPA, and in today's age of social media, televised games, and armchair physicians, it was a no brainer. When the tents were first introduced at the college and professional level, I spoke with our athletic training staff, administration, and medical oversight team about us getting one. Everyone agreed it would be beneficial. I then called Jeff Allen at the University of Alabama and we had a great talk about the benefits of the product. I did not know how beneficial it would truly be until we put it to use at Cabot Public Schools.
Athletes by nature love the lights and attention until an injury occurs. They do not want to give their opponent any type of leg up. Secondly, they are used to being evaluated in the athletic training clinic. Not in front of thousands of sets of eyes, cameras, or the opposing team.
Once you take an injured athlete into the SidelineER®, they almost instantly calm down. They know that they are in a safe space with the professionals that have their best interest at heart. They are not looking up in the stands for their parents or boyfriend/girlfriend, cameras are not on them, reporters are not asking questions or making assumptions, classmates/teammates are not invading their moment, and coaches are not asking them if they can go before we have an answer of what it is that they are dealing with. It enables us to do a thorough and timely evaluation of the injury in privacy. If any treatment needs to be administered we can provide care in a secure location without having to transition the athlete back to the athletic training clinic. I have found it to be most useful with concussion evaluations.
Participating in athletics in the midst of a pandemic has been unlike any year I have ever experienced. In the beginning it was all the unknowns of COVID. I had a front row seat watching all of our spring sports get cancelled. My job is to fix what is broken, and I felt helpless as my student athletes were trying to process why they could not play, could not go to school, could not be around their friends/loved ones. All of our lives were turned upside down. No one asked about the soccer athlete that I was rehabbing post ACL reconstruction, or the wrestler that was in concussion protocol, or the track athlete that had a hamstring injury, etc... It was decided from above that all of that just stopped.
We had to get inventive. One of the things I love most about the profession of athletic training is that we always find a way. So we went virtual and set up a Google Hangout where our student athletes could get virtual/telemedicine care.
Once we started utilizing that platform, we quickly noticed that we had an even bigger issue than musculoskeletal injuries. We started seeing the mental health affects that COVID was having on our young people. Worries of not playing, not getting a scholarship, not seeing teachers/friends/teammates/coaches/etc., and not having food or other necessities of life because their parents just got laid off. Our staff started volunteering to provide meals for our students. Not just our athletes, but our community. Beyond food, we also tried to provide a smile, a virtual hug, and a reminder that things were going to get better.
When we were able to return to practices it was obvious that the kids were so happy to be back on their teams. We found that it was the adults that were challenged to adopt the new COVID policies. The kids were great and would do anything to not get shut back down. That has been my motivation this entire semester: to do what I can to keep things moving forward. To put policies in place to minimize risk. To educate about communicable diseases and lessen the risk of spreading. To see kids laughing, playing, and being a kid again is all that I needed to work as hard as I could to keep them participating.
Times are getting tough again with COVID numbers going back up. I can see it in our kids faces and it is a constant conversation of worry about getting shut back down. Now is when they need adults to be in their corner and help them through the uncertainty. To show them that they can only control what they can control and to listen to them. It is okay to not always have the answer but to let them know that you care.
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