Making the Transition

Hereís how to make a smooth move to a new job.

By Thomas E. Bignall

Thomas E. Bignall, MS, ATC, is the new Head Athletic Trainer in the Campbell County (Wyo.) School District. Prior to that, he worked at various high schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., and served as the Head Athletic Trainer at Calvin College.

Training & Conditioning, 10.9, December 2000,

Itís the phone call youíve been working so hard towardóthe one offering you a full-time athletic training position. Along with the elation of landing your first real job, the call also brings home the reality of landing your first real job. You will be heading into a new role in a new place with many new challenges.

Moving into a new athletic training position is bound to present many situations that you may not have faced before or been exposed to as part of your educational experiences. Itís important to be prepared to deal with the many obstacles that will certainly be part of the job, especially in that decisive first year.

The way you go about setting yourself up in a new position and the types of hazards youíll find there depend largely on whether you are filling someone elseís shoes or starting a new athletic training program. However, one of the most important pieces of advice I can offer someone in either scenario is to remain confident. Confidence in your abilities, knowledge, performance, and judgement will definitely be noticed by those you must work closely with. Expressing confidence is essential for gaining their trust and respect and allowing them to rely on you.

If you are stepping into a newly created position, where you are expected to start an athletic training program for the first time, youíre one of the lucky ones. You have the opportunity to start fresh. If you are replacing someone else, I must caution you to not make too many extreme changes right away. The system that was put into place prior to your arrival may have been a system that the coaches and athletes had become comfortable with over the years. Making too many changes too soon can lead to chaos within the athletics program and to more work on your part.

Changing things to suit your style is fine, but you must also take into consideration the comfort factor of the coaches and athletes you are ultimately trying to serve. Instead, make subtle changes over a period of time (years rather than months) so that you can gauge whether the changes are perceived favorably and work well within the overall healthcare system.

Also, as you consider the changes you want to make, keep an open mind. Chances are that you have been trained to do things a certain way, but remember, there are other ways to do things. There may be parts of the previous system that you will want to keep, so if coaches say they liked the way it was done before, donít dismiss it out of hand. Find out what they like about the previous system and what parts of the system you might want to adopt.

However, if you formulate a good, solid system of care, or make changes to an existing system, and you are very confident that it works well for everyone within your environment, stick to your guns. You are going to have coaches try to manipulate your system or express discontent. Because of the various sports and schedules that you have to work with, itís going to be very difficult to please everyone, especially when coverage becomes an issue. You may have to be flexible with your time and your mode of care, and discuss alternative options to deal with each unique situation. But changing a system to please one coach or team should not compromise the stability of the entire system.

Some of the more radical changes that seem hard to resist are changes to facilities, equipment, supplies, and the like. These generally require an excessive amount of funding and should not be the first thing you tackle, especially if your employer does not have money to throw around within one year. Too many costly requests in a short amount of time may make you look fiscally irresponsible and possibly perceived as a periodic liability within a system that yearns to conserve money. Plan for the future and donít expect to get everything you want within one year.

When you first arrive on the job, you may find it very difficult to become oriented to everything. I recommend that you tackle the paperwork and filing system first, since that seems the easiest to put off. The paperwork you will use and the method you use to file it will be the backbone of your athletic training program, not only for tracking reasons, but legal reasons as well.

Beyond the paperwork, there will be plenty of other activity within the training room that will require a lot of time and preparation. Early on, you will begin to realize the value of student athletic trainers, and therefore, the benefit of implementing a student athletic training program. Whether at the high school or collegiate level, students can help pick up much of the slack, allowing you to spend your time on more critical issues. A majority of the tedious and monotonous tasks that have to be performed every day in preparation for practices and games are an excellent introduction for student athletic trainers. Speak with administrators and others in the athletic department about setting up such a program. If thatís too much to tackle in your first year, set the groundwork for implementation down the pike.

If youíre replacing someone, meet all of your supporting personnel early upon filling your new position. Getting to know their style and their level of participation in your program will give you greater insight into how much you can rely on them. Needless to say, youíre going to rely on them early and often.

If you find yourself employed in the secondary school environment, exposure to parents is a must. They ultimately control whether their child sees you or a doctor, and the extent of the care you can provide. Meeting with parents during preseason meetings for each sport will give you an opportunity to introduce yourself and your plans for dealing with various medical-related situations as well as the details of the medical networking system at your school.

The other group you will have significant contact with is coaches. Initially, your relationship with coaches should be formal. They need to perceive you as someone who means business and takes the job seriously. If their first impression is of someone who seems unorganized and unprofessional, I can guarantee that you will lose a bit of their trust and respect, and therefore, some credibility. Letting your guard down too soon opens the door to coaches manipulating you or the system, especially when you are just becoming oriented to the structure of the system. Donít get me wrong, it is acceptable and expected for you to become more personable with coaches, but do it progressively as you go. In general, the rule that first impressions tend to be lasting impressions counts here.

In addition to parents and coaches, youíll also want to quickly establish contact with a network of physical therapists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. If youíre building a new program, the earlier you find qualified specialists to fill all your programís needs, the better. Itís also never too early to establish policies and procedures for everything from return-to-play decisions to reimbursement issues with everyone in your healthcare network.

Finally, you must keep in mind that unexpected obstacles can and will arise anywhere within the system. You need to be prepared and flexible in order to conquer these obstacles head on, yet rationally. A quick and easy solution to an unexpected obstacle must be thoroughly considered in order to cover all bases effectively while avoiding tarnishing your reputation among coaches, administrators, parents, and athletes. As I said earlier, itís going to be very hard to please everyone every time. But with a well-thought-out plan, it is possible to make a smooth, effective transition into a new athletic training position.