This post is sponsored by National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my daughter and I had the opportunity to attend the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s (NATA) Prepare to Play Sports Safety and Wellness Camp. This camp is part of NATA’s public awareness initiative, At Your Own Risk, which was designed to show parents, student athletes, school administrators, and others that without an athletic trainer on your team, you are left to face the safety risks of engaging in athletics all on your own.
Following the Prepare to Play event, I hosted a Facebook Live hosted with University of Kansas Health System athletic trainer Dakota Orlando, MSEd, LAT, ATC. We discussed how parents can help their youth athletes stay healthy and active while away from sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. To watch the event in full, visit the At Your Own Risk Facebook page. It is a great resource for parents, caregivers and athletes. Orlando gave advice on how student athletes can stay connected to their team, stretches they can do, unstructured play, heat illness prevention, healthy meals and how kids can prepare for the upcoming season at home.
Prepare to Play
More than 150 girls and their parents gathered at The University of Kansas Health System Training Complex, home of our beloved Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs! NATA partnered with The University of Kansas Health System, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri to provide a fun and engaging forum to educate girls on the importance of sports safety, exercise and wellness. This event was also designed to raise awareness of who athletic trainers (ATs) are and why they are necessary for safety in work, life and sport.
Full disclosure – I really was completely unaware of all an athletic trainer does for their patients. It’s not just about keeping players hydrated and taping their ankles. First, they are health care professionals who have followed a medical model throughout their schooling, including clinical hours similar to the amount required for nursing or physical therapy. Upon graduation, they must pass a national exam to earn their certificate and acquire the necessary state licensure to practice in most states. They are specially trained in the prevention of injury and illness, but also provide immediate and emergency care as needed for concussions, cardiac arrest, heat stroke, spine injuries, and other illnesses and injuries, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation of injuries.
During Prepare to Play, the girls rotated through interactive stations, learning about concussions, overuse injuries, cardiac emergencies, mental health, and heat illness. Each station was led by an athletic trainer, who taught the girls how to take care of themselves mentally and physically. Emma was very proud of herself for learning the basics of CPR and how an AED works. I didn’t learn those things until I was an adult! She also learned a lot about getting plenty of sleep, ways to reduce stress, and proper stretching techniques to reduce the risk of injuries.
While the girls were rotating through their stations, the parents were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Chief’s athletic training room. Our tour guide was Rick Burkholder, MS, ATC, Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance for the Chiefs. He gave us the schedule for the 16-hour days he and his staff put in during the football season. Not only are they rehabilitating players who currently have injuries, but they’re providing preventative services and elite health care to prepare the athletes for practices and games.
One point stressed by Burkholder was the strong need for athletic trainers in youth sports organizations and high schools. According to the latest research in the Journal of Athletic Training, 35 percent of public high schools have a full-time athletic trainer. While this is a good start, there is more work to be done – in fact, 34 percent of high schools have no athletic trainer employed at all. A high school employing an athletic trainer will have access to appropriate medical care, both preventative and in an emergency. An athlete hurt during a game can immediately be assessed and return-to-play decisions can be made by a licensed medical professional. According to At Your Own Risk, athletes at high schools with athletic trainers incur more diagnosed concussions, demonstrating a better identification of these injuries. Unless they are medically trained, coaches, students and parents are not knowledgeable enough to determine the severity of an athlete’s injury. Therefore, an athlete may return to play before they should.
In the Kansas City area, The University of Kansas Health System has taken the charge of providing athletic trainers to every athlete seriously. In addition to being the official health care provider for the Chiefs, they provide athletic trainers at 27 Kansas City area high schools and middle schools. Additionally, they have six sports medicine and performance care clinic locations where your child can be cared for by the same doctors who treat the professional athletes from the Royals and Chiefs.
Burkholder, along with the NATA, is hoping to expose more girls to the athletic training profession as a future career option. The Chiefs employ two of the few female athletic trainers in the NFL – Tiffany Morton and Julie Frymyer. Morton, Frymyer and Burkholder want to see more female ATs in the NFL.
The event ended with some words of wisdom from Morton and the Chiefs’ star safety, Tyrann Mathieu (the Honey Badger!). Both reminded the girls of the importance of finding time for physical activity every day, but to also be aware of ways to reduce the risk of sports-related injuries. They also encouraged girls to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. We hope Prepare to Play can become an annual event in KC!
Athletic trainers are largely known for their role in providing health care to athletes. As sports have ceased around the world, ATs are finding new ways to apply their education and skillset in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many ATs have been called to the front lines to combat the pandemic alongside doctors, nurses and other health care providers. Other ATs are determining ways to remotely impact health care, wellness and safety for their patients and communities.
To learn more about athletic trainers please visit https://www.atyourownrisk.org/.