The Training Table

Editor’s note: When it comes to the care of its athletes, Blount County has few peers. The level of on-site medical support provided is genuinely stunning. It starts with the athletic trainers. March is designated National Athletic Training Month, and in this installment of “The Training Table,” Alcoa High School athletic trainer Peggy Bratt gives you a look inside the busy world of keeping your kids safe.

March is National Athletic Training Month. It is a month set aside to raise public awareness of who athletic trainers are and what they do.

If you have been around high school sports in the last several years, you have probably observed an athletic trainer at work. Here in Blount County, our athletes have access to an athletic trainer virtually every time they take the field or court. You probably know who they are: Joe Black at Maryville, Terry Byrd at Heritage, Tracy Martin at William Blount, Cherie Devault at Maryville Christian, and myself at Alcoa.

These are the people, but do you really know what they do? If you have had a son or daughter get hurt playing sports, you probably do. Many others just know we are always there.

The official definition of an athletic trainer is a health care professional who works to optimize activity and participation of patients and clients. The athletic trainer is trained in prevention, evaluation, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic injuries. An athletic trainer is there to evaluate and treat injuries. They attend practices and games. They will use anything from a band-aid to a spine board, and anything in between.

An athletic trainer is trained to evaluate the injury, treat the injury, and return the athlete to play if possible, hold them out if not.

Having knowledge of each sport and the physical and mental requirements of each is imperative. If a soccer player has a head or neck injury, the athletic trainer knows they are at risk for further injury if they head the ball.

The athletic trainer is often called upon to make quick decisions in regard to the athlete and their health. Do we put the athlete with the neck injury on a spine board and send them to the hospital? The decision can be critical to that athlete’s future, and has to be made rapidly. What separates a good athletic trainer from a great one is the ability to not only make the quick decision, but the correct one.

An athletic trainer has to know how to rehab an athlete for return to play, and what if any taping or bracing is necessary. The decision of when the athlete is ready to return to play is also crucial. An athlete returning from any injury must be capable both mentally and physically to return to play—this decision often falls to the athletic trainer. Again, making the correct decision is imperative because the wrong one can lead to further injury.

What an athletic trainer does encompasses so much. They have to know the equipment used for each sport, how to fit it correctly, and usually how to fix it if it breaks. They have to be a counselor to the athlete whose season has just ended because of an injury. They make sure they have the supplies necessary to adequately take care of the athletes.

And the list goes on and on.

Prior to moving to Maryville, I had no idea what an athletic trainer was. Immediately after arriving on campus at Maryville College, I was introduced to my first one. Over the next five years, I became very familiar with Sharon Wood and the athletic training room. I started out as an athlete and decided I liked it enough to become a student athletic trainer, later making it my profession.

Unfortunately, there are too many young athletes who still do not know what an athletic trainer is. I have had the privilege of working with the Tennessee All-Stars football team in previous years and have been amazed at the number of athletes, who are among the best in the state at their sport, who have never had the services of an athletic trainer. When asked how they were taped or treated throughout their high school career, they told me a coach or manager taped them and if they were hurt bad enough they went to the doctor.

That is a shame. Athletic trainers are there to protect the health and well-being of the athlete. Not that the coach doesn’t have the athlete’s best interest in mind. They do, but they have enough going on and don’t have the training that an athletic trainer does.

While we understand the need for the success of the team, we will never jeopardize the health of the athlete to help the team do better. Our goal is to keep the athlete in competition, but to make sure it is safe for them to compete, for them and others.

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