Scoring Your Staff

Improving your evaluation process will ultimately improve the quality of your staff and the care it provides.

By Mike Goforth

Mike Goforth, ATC, is Director of Athletic Training at Virginia Tech. He is also co-owner of University Physical Therapy in the New River Valley, Va.

Training & Conditioning, 11.8, November 2001,

As head athletic trainer, you are used to evaluating student-athletes. You evaluate injuries, analyze rehab progress, and assess the potential for future ailments. But what about your staff? How thorough or accurate are your evaluations about them?

Ideally, your evaluations of the athletic trainers on your staff should not only provide a report card of the staff's job performance, they should also provide employees with tools to progress in their careers. This article describes how head athletic trainers can effectively evaluate athletic trainers on their staffs.

Some institutions perform evaluations on an annual basis. Virginia Tech, like many state-supported institutions, has a formal, annual performance evaluation process that the state mandates for many employees. But the purpose of the state's evaluation is only to encourage personal and professional growth of the individual staff members and to provide a structured environment to discuss ideas, goals, and current job performance. Beyond that, it cannot evaluate the numerous job functions of employees, even in a small athletic department.

Consequently, I recommend that broad state-mandated reviews be augmented by department-specific evaluations and that annual evaluations be supplemented with additional, less formal, evaluations that are held several times a year. These additional evaluations create an ongoing process that encourages frequent communication between athletic trainers and their supervisors, which enables both parties to identify and remedy problems quickly, before they can get out of hand.

One option is to schedule these periodic evaluations at the end of each semester or at the end of a competitive season (fall, winter, spring). At Virginia Tech, we evaluate preseason football practice programs when the regular season begins, instead of waiting for January 1 or July 1. This allows us to review and assess the situation when it is still fresh in everyone's mind and implement improvements or adjustments during the remainder of the sport season, rather than waiting for the next year. This frequent feedback between you and your staff members should also accelerate the growth of your employees' skills while keeping you in touch with their needs and concerns.

If you are new to conducting employee evaluations, or if you believe your process needs improvement, don't be afraid to seek assistance. For instance, asking a human resource professional for advice can provide pointers to improve your evaluation format. If you work in a high school setting without a human resource staff, go to the principal, assistant principal, or athletic director for help. Start by asking them to share what they look for in an effective employee. Combine that with your knowledge of the athletic training profession and you should have a good start.

Next, make sure all job descriptions are detailed and accurate, as these are the expectations you'll be comparing staff against. A good job description should be specific and should outline the essential duties and responsibilities of a position. For example, note the varied job descriptions of the four assistant athletic trainers that are listed below. These descriptions include specific responsibilities in addition to the generic tasks of treating athletes:

Assistant A coordinates athlete insurance claims, is in charge of database management and PPE organization, and is also the NCAA drug testing site coordinator.

Assistant B is the instructor for basic and advanced athletic training courses and is in charge of planning and implementing programs to recognize and cultivate relationships with local health care providers.

Assistant C plans and implements programs to recognize and support student athletic trainers and graduate assistant athletic trainers. In addition, this ATC develops and implements monthly in-service programs for staff, graduate assistants, and students.

Assistant D develops and maintains the emergency action plan and ensures communication of the emergency action plan to all involved parties. In addition, he or she is in charge of our department's materials management tasks (inventory, reporting, processing and ordering supplies).

Assistants A through D are all certified athletic trainers working in one department, but each plays a very different role. Before you can effectively evaluate each staffer's performance, you must be clear on what you expect of the person in terms of their varying duties and areas of responsibility. Then you will be able to convert details of each job description into job functions that can be assessed.

At Virginia Tech, all supervisors examine four comprehensive areas of job performance: program management, collaboration and consultation, feedback and planning, and professionalism. Within the athletic training program, I also include additional areas of evaluation beyond the four basic ones. Examining these additional areas enables me to fine tune the evaluations to reflect the specific needs of the department and the employee's job description. For example, under the program management area, we added "coverage of game and practice activities," because we have a departmental policy mandating that all practice and game activities be covered.

Your critique of employee performance in each of these areas should be founded on job description, the employee's performance history, and staff feedback. In addition, create a scoring system to grade each area. In my system for rating ATCs, the ratings are: 1-unsatisfactory, 2-needs improvement, 3-meets expectations, 4-exceeds expectations, 5-far exceeds expectations. The evaluator and employee should discuss these ratings at the conclusion of the process.

With an evaluation format established and a ratings system in place, it's time to critique your staff's competency, attributes, and weaknesses. But to determine each employee's grade in the various areas, you'll need to gather information.

Filing notes on your staff athletic trainers throughout the year is one simple and useful method to refresh your memory about employee performance history. I also encourage our staff to copy and forward me any commendations, "thank-you" cards, or publicity that they might receive over the course of the year. A review of these observations and materials during evaluation time will remind you of the specific accomplishments of your staff as well as the areas in which you noted difficulties.

However, as you make these notes, keep in mind that they should be shared in a timely fashion with the employee. If you are documenting every aspect of an employee's behavior and stashing it away without sharing the information, then you are not accomplishing anything. Your recorded observations should be discussed and used to implement change and reinforce the positives of the employee's performance.

People who your staff works with can also provide insight into each employee's performance and professionalism. At Virginia Tech, coaches have the opportunity to rate the services of staff athletic trainers at the end of each year. The evaluation is carried out and reviewed by an Associate Athletic Director, who compiles the information and reviews the findings with the Director of Athletic Training.

Another valuable source of information comes from athlete exit interviews that are completed by the Office of Student Life. Each athlete has the opportunity to rate the effectiveness of their care and make recommendations for improvement regarding athletic trainers. The results are communicated to the Associate Athletic Director, who reviews the results with the Director of Athletic Training.

You can also interview student athletic trainers who work with the employee in question. And, every three years, our department undergoes a Title IX review by an independent consultant. This information may indicate if a staffer is disproportionately dedicating time to one sport or gender over another, and if changes need to be addressed during his or her evaluation.

Your final step in the evaluation process is to meet privately with each staff member to share your conclusions on their performance. However, you also want this experience to be as positive as possible for him or her, so be sure to balance criticism with due praise and recognition.

I like to review the employee's job description and focus on certain specific areas that I believe we can improve on. Then, I'll throw ideas out that might help a staff athletic trainer increase performance in those areas. Also, if there are previous reprimands on file, I discuss them to ensure that positive steps are being taken by the employee to correct errors.

To engender improvement in earnest and make evaluation a collaborative effort, come to an agreement on several items with your staff athletic trainer and set a plan for improvement. Then write those steps down. This document will provide the employee with an ongoing guide to implement change and hopefully measure effectiveness. Finally, to end on a high note, conclude the employee evaluation review by going over any commendations received over the past year.

Lastly, I can't stress enough how important it is to make the evaluation process as positive as possible. The evaluator and employee must enter into the process with the attitude that the process will make the employee, evaluator, and the entire department more effective.

SIDEBAR: Sample Performance Evaluation

Below is a sample performance evaluation list for a staff athletic trainer. It includes the four basic areas of evaluation, plus my department's additional areas of evaluation for the specific position. Each sub-category receives a rating ranging from "unsatisfactory" to "far exceeds expectations." Then, we assign a rating to the overall category.

Program Management:
o Coverage of game and practice
o Use of technology
o Supervision and instruction of
o Materials management
o Facility upkeep
o Overall

Collaboration and Consultation:
o With coaches
o With staff athletic trainers
o With student athletic trainers
o With administration
o With non-department entities
o Overall

Feedback and Planning:
o Process analysis
o Medical documentation
o Situational documentation
o Closure skills
o Focus
o Overall

o Image and demeanor
o Level of knowledge
o Interactions with colleagues & staff
o Interactions with students
o Professional involvement
o Educational involvement
o Proactivity vs. reactivity
o Training room organization and
o Attire
o Overall