Preseason Prep

A preseason camp is a great way to get student athletic trainers back in the swing before things really get swinging.

By Suanne Maurer

Suanne Maurer, MS, ATC, is the Athletic Training Program Coordinator and an Assistant Professor at Hofstra University.

Training & Conditioning, 11.5, July/August 2001,

Most of us have sweated through various mid-August preseason athletic camps and come to the realization that our relaxing summer days have been replaced by two-a-days, weight charts, and sling psychrometer readings. But the end of the summer isn't just a time to start gearing up for the fall sports, it's also a great time to take stock of your athletic training program and get it in shape for the upcoming year.

Just as athletes need to ease back into training, your student athletic trainers need to get reacquainted with their duties, roles, and responsibilities. A great way to do this is to hold a preseason camp or orientation for your student athletic trainers.

At Hofstra, we have held an athletic training preseason camp for the past eight years. During this time, we have found what procedures seem to work best. We have progressed from having only those student athletic trainers working with fall sports teams in attendance, to making it mandatory for all student and staff athletic trainers. During the two-day preseason camp, a wide range of skills and procedures are reviewed and seminars are presented on a variety of topics. Because we are finding more and more information we would like to share with the students, and because our camps have
been so successful, this year, we are looking to extend our preseason to two and a half days.

In this article, I'll discuss some of the elements we have found to be most useful and some pitfalls to avoid when planning a preseason camp for student athletic trainers. These suggestions stem from our experiences--you may find that your school has different challenges and possibilities.

At Hofstra, planning for the preseason camp starts early in the calendar year. We begin by looking at the athletic department schedule for the fall and bring all the student athletic trainers back three days prior to the date the first athletic team reports for their own preseason. Students are informed of the dates during the spring semester through a meeting held with all students and staff. Then, a follow-up letter is sent out in mid-June as a reminder to the students.

The spring meeting is also helpful in designing content for the camp. During the spring meeting, we survey our student athletic trainers and ask them to rate a list of topics from one to seven (one is the topic they would like to hear the most, seven is the topic they would like to hear the least). The topics are developed by me and my staff based on areas of concern we observed through the year. The feedback from the surveys helps us plan many of the camp activities and discussions, particularly life skills activities and seminar topics.

You certainly don't need to have everything planned at this initial meeting. In the months leading up to the camp, you'll have plenty of time to arrange speakers and an itinerary, as well as optional things like donations of food and equipment. Beware of leaving everything until the last minute, however, because the summer can easily slip by before you've had a chance to get things organized. It doesn't take much planning--a few well-spent hours in the spring can put most things in order.

Finding qualified speakers and a venue to house the camp may be your first challenge. This year, we were fortunate to have a local MRI technician open up his office for us to hold seminars in. He not only discussed the MRI, but also demonstrated its use with three of our students as subjects. Obviously, this is outside the realm of what student athletic trainers will be called on to do, but it exposes them to what athletes are being sent for when they go for an MRI and what orthopods look for in the images.

I believe this element of giving students a glimpse into other areas of healthcare they might not experience during the year is an important part of the camp. For example, we also brought in a physician's assistant who reviewed suturing and let students practice by suturing oranges. And we had an athletic trainer working in surgical supplies discuss and show the types of equipment physicians use in ACL reconstruction surgery.

Attracting interesting speakers is perhaps the biggest part of planning the camp. We have been very fortunate, but, in our case, it's often just been a matter of using our local resources and calling upon alumni. Two of the above examples were alumni who worked locally.

The key is to not be afraid to ask for volunteers. There are many people who would love to give their time for the education of students without any financial remuneration. Depending on your institution, you may be able to give the person some token of appreciation (a t-shirt or sweatshirt, tickets to an upcoming game, etc.), or even a small guest speaker fee from the department. Alumni who have already been in the workforce may be willing to come back and give an in-service to the student population. This is a great opportunity to bring in other healthcare providers and have them interact with the student athletic trainers.

We also like to utilize the expertise of our athletic training staff. During the
spring semester, all staff are contacted and asked to think about a topic of interest they would like to present to the students during the preseason camp. All presentations are voluntary, and the only limitation is that lectures must be kept to 45 minutes

Another tricky issue can be finding lodging for out-of-town students. We are fortunate in that the majority of our student population comes from local communities (within 100 miles). However, we attempt to find lodging for students who do not live in close proximity to the institution. Local students are approached at the end of the spring semester and asked if they would be willing to be a host for an out-of-town student. Another avenue is to ask staff ATCs if they would be willing to have a student athletic trainer as a house guest. Sometimes, the athletic department will offer two or three dormitory rooms free of charge and we are able to double up our nonresident students in the dorms.

Because providing food for the camp can be prohibitively expensive, with the exception of dinner on the first night, students are responsible for their meals. For the first night's dinner, the staff donates money to have pizza delivered. This is an inexpensive way to welcome the students back on the first evening. Other ways institutions might help finance meals is to seek out possible funding from the department in which the academic program is housed, contact alumni to ask for their support, or ask area vendors if they would be willing to donate funds or food. Should a vendor provide food, you may be able to place a thank you in your school's newspaper. This way, the vendor is given some free publicity to the college community at large.

Day One
Our first day of camp is usually dedicated to work on "life skills," such as stress reduction, cultural sensitivity, time management, and conflict resolution skills. I have a health education background, so I run many of the activities myself. However, there are times when I bring in outside individuals to assist in team teaching the life skills activities. You may be able to identify an individual at your institution who is willing to teach a life skills area that you are not comfortable in presenting.

In addition to the above-mentioned skills, we work on cooperation, team building, and leadership. We are fortunate to have an individual in the Physical Education and Sport Sciences Department who teaches an outdoor adventure class.

Some examples of past team-building activities include team problem solving. For example, a team is presented the following problem:
"Your team is trapped on one side of a riverbank. You must get all team members to the other side of the riverbank safely. You are limited by having one life preserver among all of you and a small boat that will carry only two people at a time. You are further limited by having the boat only be able to make two trips across the river."

Another activity deals with cooperation. Typically, students are not allowed to speak during this activity. On the facilitator's command, they must perform a task, such as lining up alphabetically by last names.

After these activities, we break for lunch. Then, after lunch, we update all students in CPR for the Professional Rescuer. We are fortunate to have three staff members who are certified to teach this course, allowing us to divide the students into three smaller groups. In the future, we will be looking to also certify our students in the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Should your institution not have this many instructors available, look into whether there's a department on campus that teaches a first-aid class and investigate options for having one of their qualified faculty members volunteer his or her time. You may also have alumni who are certified to teach this class and might be willing to donate their time to the educational program.

CPR certification takes most of the time between lunch and dinner, but because after dinner we will be dividing into groups and assisting with football physicals, we review the procedure
and stations before breaking for dinner. Prior to the camp, all students are asked to review procedures such as how to take blood pressure, pulse, weight, and height, and how to test eyes using the Snellen eye test. During the football physicals, students are also asked to assist the physician in the rooms and with paperwork for drug testing.

After the physicals, we give a brief seminar on an important topic, such as spineboarding, before wrapping the day up with a question-and-answer review period. We structure this like a game show to make it fun for the students. They pick a question from a hat, read it aloud, and answer it. They are offered one "life line" from their peers if they do not know the answer to the question. Most of the questions deal with procedures--"Where are the coolers kept?" or "How do I sign in for my clinical rotation hours?" We have found this to be a good review for our returning students, and a great way to introduce our new students to administrative protocols.

Day Two
The second day is spent primarily in seminars. We choose to videotape all our seminars. This allows us to not only build a video library but also permits students to view these seminars again. This is particularly helpful for any students unable to attend an in-service. By videotaping seminars, all students have equal access to the education that was provided by the speakers.

The seminars are given by local healthcare providers who lecture and conduct hands-on clinics. We divide the students into three groups and rotate them through each subject every 45 minutes. We have found that by breaking the students into smaller groups, more interaction takes place between them and the guest lecturer.

We also complete all of our OSHA retraining during the second day. Although all athletic training students have had OSHA training/education as part of a structured class, we review OSHA standards and procedures for all students and staff during camp. Our head athletic trainer is the OSHA Compliance Officer for the athletic department and he gives a lecture regarding wound care management and reviews our exposure control plan. We then break for lunch.

Following lunch, we hold our last certification update, which is to verify that all student athletic trainers know how to use the athletic department golf carts. The institution has a policy whereby any individual who drives the golf carts must attend one safety meeting. The head athletic trainer conducts this for all new students coming into the program.

The majority of the afternoon is devoted to staff presentations. Again, these are based on staff interest and perceptions of the students' training needs. Topics include daily procedures for the athletic training room, emergency protocols, and use of the electric stim and other modalities.

Following these presentations, we break for dinner. The final item is for all students to meet with their clinical supervisors for a brief review and discussion of when to report back.

Always Refining
It's important to continually get feedback from the students and staff as to what works best. For example, this past year we tried an experiment and changed activities from problem solving through games to problem solving through sit-down activities. In one activity, teams had to attempt to identify an individual based on limited information given in small increments. Each team was given a large envelope. Inside were little pieces of a person's life, such as torn up tickets to a play, a letter from a boss supporting their research, a returned personal check from a university for a tuition payment. Students were only allowed to take out one piece of information at a time, and the group was charged with the task of trying to tell the person\rquote s life story.

The feedback we received from the student athletic trainers regarding the sit-down activities was not encouraging. They felt that they were able to work together better as a cohesive group with the games, rather than the sit-down activities. Based on this
input, we are going back to implementing team building and cooperation skills through adventure-style games and activities.

And, because the camps emphasize elements that are important year-round, in addition to the preseason camp we hold in the fall, we have also set up dates during our January recess to bring all student athletic trainers together and provide a targeted skills seminar for them. This past fall semester, for instance, we found that the students were having a difficult time with communication and conflict-resolution skills. We, therefore, provided a mini-seminar this winter that targeted these specific issues and hopefully provided the students the necessary skills they will need to deal with communication and conflict-resolution skills. We, therefore, provided a mini-seminar this winter that targeted these specific issues and hopefully provided the students the necessary skills they will need to deal with communication and conflict resolutions in the future.

I feel it’s important, too, that we think outside of providing only “traditional” athletic training education to the students. My philosophy has been to provide the students opportunities not only to make them better athletic trainers, but also to help them develop the skills necessary to be better people.

We’ve found the preseason camp to effectively provide a crucial element to our athletic training students’ training and education. Athletic teams are not the only ones who may benefit from preseason “practice.” A preseason camp also affords not only the student athletic trainers, but the athletic training faculty, staff, and allied healthcare providers an opportunity to become reacquainted with the athletic training program before the craziness of the semester sets in.