November 29, 2014 • Sports Medicine

Between the Lines: Addressing the need for athletic trainers

Kevin Hoffman

Through the lens of coaches, the most important individual on their team is the quarterback, the captain, the pitcher or the goalkeeper. Seldom do they name the athletic trainer, but when all is said and done, nobody is more valuable to the program.

What good is your star point guard sitting on the bench with a nagging ankle injury?

The prep sports landscape has changed significantly over the last decade. There was once a time when banged up athletes were sent back into games, told to “tough it out” for the sake of their teammates. We’re not talking scraped knees or bruised elbows. Many injuries were much more serious, but without a diagnosis from a certified AT, distinguishing one from the other wasn’t so simple.

That’s not so much the case today, as scrutiny over debilitating injuries is greater than it has ever been. But for every school fortunate enough to have an athletic trainer on the sidelines at its sporting events, dozens more are deprived proper oversight. That needs to change.

Advocates in Arizona are trying to start that movement, pushing for regulations that would place an athletic trainer in all of the state’s high schools. It’s an ambitious plan, set out over a 10-year period, but it’s one that would certainly enhance student-athlete safety.

“There’s always the question from parents about the one thing that they can do for their kids when it comes to their safety, and right now, it’s focused on concussions,” neurologist Dr. Javier Cardenas told The Arizona Republic.

“The one thing they can do is have an athletic trainer at their school, because they’re the ones that really are protecting our kids … and making sure that our kids are safe participating in athletics.”

It’s befuddling then why such mandates don’t already exist. Common arguments are funding and availability, as some rural schools are more than 50 miles from the nearest hospital. There’s no disputing the dilemma that creates, but if we truly value the physical and mental health of young athletes, we’d find a solution.

The majority of obstacles can be traced back to money, or lack thereof. High school athletic departments have cut sports, coaches or teams to adapt to their fiscal realities. Trying to convince an athletic director they need to welcome the added expense of an AT is a tough sell, regardless of how reasonable the case may be.

Part of the problem is our backward approach to the issue. We shouldn’t examine whether we can fit ATs into the budget, but rather how the budget must adapt with the inclusion of an AT. Approaching it as a choice gives the appearance that ATs are expendable, yet you would be hard pressed to find someone capable of framing such an argument.

There are ways to make it possible for all schools to have access to ATs, and if athletic programs haven’t figured it out, they’re not trying hard enough. Explore new revenue streams or partnerships, whatever is necessary to make it happen. This should unquestionably be a priority in all athletic departments.

The movement in Arizona is encouraging, but progress needs to be made on a national scale. Until that happens, we’re failing to adequately protect our young athletes.

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