Athletic Training: Five Must-Do’s to Start Your Program

athletic training

Greg Corack shares the five things you must do when considering starting your athletic training program on campus.

In my 15-plus years playing contact sports I witnessed a variety of care standards from sideline physicians with athletic trainers, to hoping someone in the crowd might be a nurse or know CPR. Although uncommon in many recreational sports programs until recently, the hiring of certified athletic trainers (ATC) is becoming more and more prevalent.

Administrators have realized simply training a student supervisor in CPR and first aid is not enough to provide adequate care for injured rugby or ice hockey players. The advanced training, certification and sideline presence of an ATC provides a level of comfort for university attorneys, players and, most importantly, the parents paying the tuition and medical bills of our participants.

As college recreation programs return to play in the coming months, an assessment on the health and well-being of participants will surely come to the forefront. The need for advanced sideline and rehabilitative care outside of the campus health center has never been more prevalent due to the stresses placed on medical providers with the recent pandemic.

Additional healthcare providers, such as ATCs, add legitimacy to club and intramural sports programs, providing a level of safety for thousands of participants each year. The advanced care helps to diagnose, treat and possibly avoid hundreds of injuries annually, especially those that could end up threatening the lives of our students.

Supplementing existing field supervision at East Carolina University (ECU) with three ATCs was a decision over two years in the making. We developed relationships with professionals on campus at Student Health, Athletics and faculty in the Athletic Training Education Program, allowing for a prepared and measured approach. Facility renovations coupled with a well-balanced hiring committee, and adequate financial commitment from administrators, allowed for the hiring of a tremendously qualified head athletic trainer to build the program from scratch.

Jennifer Pidgeon, MS, LAT, ATC was hired in May 2019 along with two graduate assistants to provide care for over 5,000 annual participants in a nationally recognized club and intramural sports program. The five tenants of our philosophy for starting an athletic training program appear below with insight from Jennifer along the way.

Recognize the Need for an Athletic Training Program

ECU hosted the NIRSA Region 2 soccer tournament, the NC Youth Soccer Championships and the USA Rugby Women’s Regional Championships in 2017 and 2018. Those three events brought 100-plus teams and over 2,000 athletes to Greenville, North Carolina, with the requisite contracted ATCs, ambulance calls and communication headaches. After a long year of special events and numerous injuries in our student-focused programming, 174 reported in fall 2018, our department began the process of investing in advanced sideline care. Athletic training programs installed at other institutions helped guide ECU’s framework coupled with on-campus consultation from athletic training professionals in academics and athletics.

Build the Facility to House the Program

Changing any facility on a college campus is an arduous process which can take years of planning and procedural headaches. Fortunately, our existing main recreation facility had an aging smoothie bar that was no longer profitable for Campus Dining. We were able to take over the 832 square feet of existing dining space and produce an attractive, albeit small, athletic training room with multiple treatment rooms, a massage/private treatment space and reception area.

The planning for this renovation took 18 months from concept to occupancy but was well worth the wait. The new facility sees 25-plus participants on busy weekday evenings with room for private consultation and rehabilitative care. Additionally, the department modified existing storage space at an outdoor facility to accommodate two athletic training tables and storage for a semi-private gameday treatment area.

Build Your Athletic Training Team

This is the most essential step in your athletic training program formulation process. Hiring the right head ATC, or more than likely your only ATC, is essential to your success in the first few years. The ability to balance time, coupled with extreme organization skills, will allow your program to get off the ground successfully. An ATC with great experience at policy formulation, budget management, staff supervision and sideline coverage is hard to find, so hiring on potential is paramount.

Our team was able to recruit an excellent master’s level candidate with the skills needed to establish program operations in only four months. Additionally, two ATC graduate assistants were hired to complete the team from ECU’s Athletic Training Education Program. The homegrown talent allowed for instant connections on campus to internal resources and partnerships.

Develop Your Team Policies

According to head athletic trainer Jennifer Pidgeon, the most essential part of policy development is “knowing your population size, and anticipating participant needs, combined with knowing your team’s strengths and appropriately creating an environment where they will succeed at providing care.”

The policies that work for a varsity athletics program can supplement those geared toward recreational sports but must be altered to accommodate the thousands of recreation participants served daily. Every facility in which ATCs provide care must have specific emergency action plans, and in the state of North Carolina, treatment protocols must also be approved by a licensed physician.

Policy development is an arduous process with many key players, so ensure consultation with various constituencies on campus and in your city/region. Hurdles abound during this stage of program development, but solid guidelines provide excellent preparation for emergency situations.

Care for Your Participants and Athletic Training Staff

This is the most important step in the program formulation process and certainly the focus for 90% of your efforts. Find sideline coverage schedules that fit your various activities, but don’t overwork your athletic trainers. “The first year at ECU saw coverage plans of 40 hours per week grow to over 100 per week in only one semester,” said Jennifer Pidgeon.

The ability to assess the risk level of activities and then balance it with the availability of certified staff is difficult and is detrimental to the work-life happiness of ATCs. Our second semester saw the need to contract an outside company for additional coverage as the three ATCs on staff could no longer cover the 105 hours we had scheduled. In one year alone, our staff provided 2,307 individual treatments to over 500 participants and diagnosed 558 injuries, a 300% increase from reporting the previous year.

The decision to add athletic training services was difficult, but well worth the time and effort. An amazing team of ATCs treats thousands of participants, while serving as risk mitigators for a program spanning four facilities and over 100 total hours of weekly sports activity. The safety of ECU students is our No. 1 priority and our staff ensure all participants receive the care they need to be successful on the field and in the classroom.

Greg Corack, Ed.D., serves as the associate director of Leadership and Programs at East Carolina University Campus Recreation and Wellness. He began his career at James Madison University in intramural sports and eventually moved to Eastern Kentucky University for his first professional position as assistant director of Intramural and Club Sports. Greg has worked in a variety of capacities in his 15 years in the industry including experiences supervising indoor and outdoor facilities, health promotion, athletic training, adventure leadership and team training. He has presented at multiple state, regional and national conferences with a passion for action research and assessment. Greg earned doctorate of education from Eastern Kentucky University, a master of science and bachelor of science, both in sport management from James Madison University.

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