Its another Friday night in the late summer, which means one thing in Central Illinois, FOOTBALL! Something about the pageantry and passion of small towns and big towns alike. It begins early in the day when the kids arrive at school either adorned in their jersey, or their boyfriend’s jersey, or their team colors. Plans are being made about when and where to meet up to eat, some of the more die-hard will fire up the grill and tailgate, home and away. When the kids finally get through a “useless” day of school, ITS ON.
Coaches head to the classroom for the final prep before kickoff. Players are eating and watching a video/film or getting into a zone via the iPod. Parents are getting work and chores tackled so they can come and cheer on their loved ones and the team.
What are we, the athletic trainers, doing? Worrying. Planning. Preparing. For the unexpected! In football you can expect a lot of things, maybe not the outcome, but for the most part the game plan and expectations are in place. In athletic training you never know what you will see or do. The ol’ saying “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” is exactly what game day is like for athletic training.
One week you will see nothing but a cut on the arm, the next you have separated shoulders, broken fingers, and tons of cramps. I have always thought that if I am doing nothing I have done my job perfectly, as I have prevented and prepared for all issues. If you can have 2-3 weeks of a 9 week season like that you have done a great job. Since the 2003 season and my maturation as a professional I have rarely seen those types of games. Not because I have been associated with “weak” kids, but that the collisions are bigger and my education has been better.
I would say between one to three times a game I have asked a player about their head, mostly due to a hit that they have sustained. In 2002, being young and not as in tuned with the concussion issue, there were players that I felt were OK to return to play. And based upon research and publications at the time, I was doing the right thing. But after the season I noticed more and more athletes complaining of headaches, and one parent telling me that their son’s grades had slipped. That is when I took notice and began to dig deeper.
I became more protective of kids when a head injury was suspected, even went to the extreme of running onto the field of play when a coach tried to put a player back in, when I clearly stated he could not return. So now on Friday Nights when the kids are playing, the coaches, coaching and the fans cheering, I spend all that time searching, searching for things that I cannot prepare for, but things that will make life as a student-athlete better and safer.
The conclusion of this convoluted mess is that athletic trainers are busy, even when it looks like they are standing there, if you get the chance make sure you let them know you care and appreciate what they do!