Standing Your Ground With Difficult Coaches
Things were different with athletic training education back when I was in college at University of Delaware. Back then, as a freshman, you did observation hours and applied to the athletic training program as a sophomore. Then during your sophomore and junior years you worked under a senior and certified AT with a different sport each season and if you were lucky you got to travel with your team. As a senior athletic trainer, you had 2 sports for their entire seasons and you basically oversaw the medical care, did all evaluations, treatments, referrals and under the direction of the certified, you made all the decisions for your team. Unless you were working with a large or highly visible team, (football, basketball, lacrosse and baseball) you even traveled solo. There was lots of pressure and responsibility placed on us un-certified undergrads back then. It prepared me for my first job when I graduated.
When I was a senior, there was one coach who had a reputation of making student athletic trainers cry. She prided herself on this and her toughness as a coach and in retrospect, I think our program directors never interfered because they wanted the students to experience working with a difficult coach.
Back to this difficult coach. I had one athlete who was rehabbing an ankle sprain. It was taking a long time and the coach was getting very frustrated. The athletes were intimidated by the coach too and they rarely spoke up to her. So I wasn’t exactly surprised one day when I got out to the field to find this injured athlete running drills she was not supposed to be doing. I approached the coach and said, “Hey coach, uh she’s not cleared to do these drills yet.” The coach BLEW UP on me demanding answers about why it was taking this long and when would she be ready and pointed to the athlete saying, “she looks fine out there.” She kept going, yelling in my face for what seemed like forever until finally she paused to say: “What? Are you going to cry now?” This last question blew me away. It was as if she was trying to add me to her list of "Student AT Cry-Babies" of the past and truthfully, I almost did cry! Instead I muscled up, took a deep breath, held back the tears and said I’d check with the certified AT and walked away.
Here was the advice the certified AT gave me:
“Mara, if you back down then this coach will know that she can walk all over you, and she will do it over and over again. You need to stick to your guns when you’ve made a decision about athlete’s health, let the coach know that you are in charge and not let a coach influence or jeopardize your medical decisions. So, go tell the athlete she needs to sit down.”
And that’s just what I did. And the coach watched me and went right along coaching and didn’t say anything more to me. (In all honesty… I cried when I got home mostly out of anger that I let her get to me.)
That’s the story of the time I had the opportunity to work with a difficult coach and the story of the first but not the last time I had to stand my ground as a professional. As AT’s we are not only health care providers but also sometimes have to be advocates for our patients when their coaches and even their parents think they know better. We must remember our educational background and that we do this every day and in all different sports and all different levels. We need to be confident in our skill set and allow that confidence to show front and center when talking to coaches and parents.
I want to give props to that certified athletic trainer who helped me through the situation. Her name was Jenn Grunzweig, now Jenn Alvarez and it was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in college.
Link(s) of the Month:
It’s camp time. Stand up for yourself and your profession and demand going rates. If you don’t know what they are ASK a few ATs in your area. Hint: it should at the least equal your normal hourly rate for your working hours. See my blog post from July 2015 for my camp salary rant.
Secondly: here’s a good link about standing up for yourself in all situations: I’m not a fan of the graphic they chose, but the article is good.
Lastly, please share a story in the comments about a time you may have had to stand up to a coach. It’s nice to hear your stories too :) Hearing how different people handle different situations helps develop solidarity and makes us all better professionals.