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How Athletic Trainers Can Build Better Relationships with Coaches and Administrators

Posted by Bethany Nock on Wed, March 27, 2019

Athletic trainers are, in many ways, the unsung heroes of any school sports program.

The wide range of medical services you provide student-athletes — from preventative care and education to coordination with emergency services and rehabilitation assistance — is crucial to the success of any athletic department. In fact, high schools with athletic trainers have fewer injuries than those without one, according to a 2018 study by the Injury Epidemiology.

But strained relationships with other personnel, such as coaches and school administrators, can make your job much more challenging.

In honor of Athletic Training Month, here are four ways you can build better relationships with coaches and admins — and prove you’re capable of much more than just taping ankles.

1. Communicate Responsibilities

Many conflicts between athletic trainers and coaches or school administrators stem from a lack of understanding. In many cases, other professionals don’t fully grasp athletic trainers’ role as a health care professional. That’s why it’s helpful to take the time to educate administrators and other leaders on what you do and why it serves your mutual interests.

For example, they may not understand that you’ve been professionally trained to spot dangerous or life-threatening injuries others may not recognize, such as concussions. Coaches and administrators also might not know you can help student-athletes manage injuries properly to ensure faster and safer return-to-play, or that you can develop preventative care plans to help limit sprains, strains and other common sports injuries that keep players down.

2. Use Empathy

Everyone from school administrators to coaches and parents all share one common interest: the success and well-being of the students. But while you may focus on health and safety, coaches may be more interested in helping student-athletes perform at their best and administrators may be more concerned with ensuring the team plays well enough to earn better resources for the school.

When working with coaches and administrators, its essential you consider their objectives and how they overlap with yours. When speaking with other professionals, be sure to acknowledge their interests. 

For example, “I understand as a coach you’re feeling pressure to win more games this year, but I also know how much you care about this athlete’s future. Putting her back on the field in this state is dangerous, and one false move could put her out for the entire season.” 

3. Build Mutual Trust

The best way to build trust with coaches and administrators is to communicate regularly and show them you’re a partner, not an adversary. Set up regular meetings to touch base and chat through shared challenges. 

For example, you may discover some student-athletes are withholding information about injuries because they don’t want to be taken out of the games, but this can put them at risk for more severe second injuries. On the other hand, you may notice others “milk” their injuries and ask you to tape their joints even when it's not necessary. This information can be useful for a coach and presents an opportunity for the two of you to work together to ensure a student’s well-being.

Additionally, share frequent student injury status reports with administrators to keep them in the loop. By making an effort to be open and honest, you’ll be more likely to earn their confidence.

4. Manage Expectations

Failing to provide proper expectations around things like injury severity and healing time can be another source of frustration and conflict between athletic trainers and coaches or administrators. That’s why it’s essential you provide as much detail as possible. In some cases, it may be up to a physician to determine a healing timeline, so be transparent with this information, too.

 Working as an athletic trainer for a high school or college sports program is an exciting and fulfilling career path and offers you plenty of opportunities to make a positive and lasting impact on student-athletes. By building better relationships with coaches and administrators, you can help reduce friction and ensure students have a united support system.

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