By Jim Catalano
Jim Catalano is an Associate Editor at Training & Conditioning.
Training & Conditioning, 13.4, May/June 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1304/website.htm
Everyone who would like to make better use of their time, raise your hand. Whoops, don’t drop the magazine! Because the next few pages can give you an idea that may seem time consuming at first, but will make you more efficient very quickly.
The magic solution? Starting a Web site.
Communicating information in a timely and efficient way is important for all athletic trainers, and a department Web site can help get your message to a wide variety of people 24 hours a day, whether you’re in the athletic training room, out on a practice field, or at home. The less time an athletic trainer has to spend repeating the same information to different people, the more time he or she can spend serving the athletes directly.
“A department Web site is a great way to spread knowledge, and to make others responsible for getting that information, versus always saying the same things over and over again,” says Kyle Diamond, MAT, ATC, CSCS, Director of Sports Medicine at the University of New Haven, who is working on setting up a site to launch this summer.
Athletic training has always been a people business. So it may be difficult for some athletic trainers to rely on what they feel is an impersonal mode of communication. For those who regularly use the Web, however, it has become an integral part of their communication process.
“We live in the information age,” says Jim Berry, MEd, ATC, SCAT/NREMT, Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High School. “The parents and student-athletes we serve are as apt to seek information via a computer as they are via the local newspaper, television, or radio station.”
There are many different things you can include on an athletic training department Web site. You can take the Dragnet approach and supply just the facts, or you can go all out and develop a multi-media experience that will dazzle and amaze. Your approach will largely depend on what you want to get out of your site.
Some areas to think about covering:
• Providing information to student-athletes.
• Providing information to parents.
• Providing information to athletic training students.
• Providing information to coaches and administrators.
• Publicizing the program.
• As a learning tool.
• As a way to explain and promote the profession.
• Providing information to visiting athletic trainers.
• At colleges, as a way to recruit athletic training students.
• Contact information.
Whatever you hope to accomplish with your Web site and who you want to reach, most suggest you start with the basics. “The most important things are the answers to the who, what, where, and when questions,” Berry says. “An athletic training program site should contain general information about the program such as who is on the staff and their background. It should also contain information about the facilities, what services are offered to parents and student-athletes, and how to contact the athletic trainers.”
Jonathan Willey, MEd, ATC/L, Assistant Athletic Trainer at Bowling Green State University, set up his department’s site earlier this year. He has posted staff bios and pictures, facility tour pictures, athletic training student names and pictures, alumni contact information, information on the athletic training education program, a contact page, links to other athletic training resources and athletic conferences, and information on what an athletic trainer is and does.
Mike Mulcahey, MA, ATC/L, Assistant Athletic Trainer at Xavier University, posts basic information such as the clinic’s equipment and hours of operation on his site. “We also have links to staff bios, so that visiting teams, recruits, and potential athletic training majors can see who works in the department and what their qualifications are,” he says.
The next area to include is a section with information for visiting athletic trainers. Willey says it’s the most popular area of his department’s site. “Here we put all of the information about the school, the town, the weather, and the athletic training department hours,” he says. “This also saves valuable time and money in doing those seasonal mailings to visiting ATCs that we all do before each sport begins.”
Some more advanced features to consider include putting a search engine on the site. “This can be done for free through a company called ATOMZ (www.atomz.com) and is completely customizable,” Willey says. “ATOMZ also provides me with weekly search reports so I can see what visitors are searching for and can change the site to better accommodate those visitors.”
Additional ideas are limited only by your imagination, notes Berry. “We have added an interactive athletic training quiz that we update each month and a monthly poll question that we change once a month,” he says. “We also have two Web-based musical slide shows. One contains pictures of our staff, and the other features our program graduates.”
More and more athletic trainers are adding a section to their Web sites dedicated to virtual paperwork. Insurance forms, information change forms, the preparticipation physical form, waivers, and similar papers can often be converted into a PDF (portable document format) file that can be downloaded from the department Web site to just about any computer, whether it runs the same software as yours or not. (For more information on PDF files, go to www.adobe.com.) Some forms can even be filled out directly on the Web. Parents and other users can then access these forms at their convenience without your involvement.
“We offer PDF versions of all of our physical exam forms on line for parents,” Berry says. “When a parent calls our office desperately searching for a form that they need for a doctor’s appointment in 20 minutes, my first question is, ‘Do you have access to a computer?’ If they say yes, then I tell them to print the forms from our Web site. We have dealt with numerous parents who were delighted to learn they were not going to have to make a mad dash to the high school to pick up a physical form.”
By implementing a sturdy password system, other athletic trainers are using their Web sites to access information while they’re on the road. “You should check with your information technology people to see if you can set up a password-protected folder that only you can access,” says Michael Goldenberg, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at the Lawrenceville (N.J.) School. “Then, if you’re on the road and need to look up a kid’s medical history, you can do it.”
Paul Higgs, MEd, ATC, LAT, Head Athletic Trainer at Georgia College & State University, uses a restricted area for his student athletic trainers on his department’s site. “It has phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, and e-mail addresses, so they can keep track of each other,” he says. “It’s accessible only to them.”
But keep in mind that dedicated computer hackers can get through many security systems. So if you choose to put sensitive information on your site, make sure experienced technology professionals are there to protect it.
Layout & Links
The content of your Web site is important, but even the greatest content is worthless if people can’t find it. Thus, it’s critical that your design and layout help users navigate within and beyond the site using clear links to specific types of information.
“Links can be important in two ways,” Berry says. “First, they can lead your visitors to other areas of your Web site. This allows you to spice up your site but not overwhelm the visitor by presenting everything on the same page.”
The second way, Berry says, is that links can provide visitors with information beyond your scope. For example, rather than creating your own section explaining common injuries, you can link to pages on other athletic training or sports medicine sites. It’s generally considered good form to ask permission before linking to other sites, but few requests are denied.
Other good places to link to are athletic training organizations. Goldenberg is a member of the NATA’s Webmaster’s Advisory Group, and says the group has created logo boxes that you can place on your Web site that will link to the NATA Web site. “I’ve written a little bit of HTML code that will put a little box or logo on any Web site to indicate when the NATA Web site was last updated,” he says. “That way, people who go to our Web site can also keep up with the NATA site.”
Many athletic trainers also provide links to the conference, state, or regional associations they belong to. This usually can be done either through the outside Web site or by sending an e-mail to the site’s Webmaster, who is usually listed on the home page. It’s also a good idea to provide a prominent link back to your school and athletic department home pages.
Some athletic trainers may have ambitions of making their department site into a clearinghouse for all sorts of sports medicine-related information, such as nutrition, rehabilitation, eating disorders, and other topics. But it’s best to proceed with caution in this area.
“Those are certainly topics that could be included on a site,” Berry says. “One thing you have to be very careful about, however, is offering tips and advice without also offering some type of disclaimer. With the exception of an online version of our Parent/Student-Athlete Handbook, we tend to avoid posting too much information on things like this. It could open us up to liability if someone did something and then said it was our fault because they just did what we said on our Web site.”
Willey urges a similar tack. “If you put up information on injuries, rehab, etc., it is necessary to properly review this information with your school’s or clinic’s lawyer and place a disclaimer on the site,” he says. “I think general information on an ankle sprain or ACL tear, such as anatomy mechanism, is fine. But you don’t want to get into trouble by putting up a rehab protocol and then having someone try to sue you when things don’t go right.”
The first step to setting up your own Web site is to find out if your school already has one and who is in charge of it. Many larger college athletic departments contract the operation of their Web sites to an outside company, who can also help you set up your site. Other schools handle it in-house, with either a dedicated Webmaster or the sports information director handling the duties. They’ll be able to tell you how to set up a section for the athletic training department.
If your school doesn’t have a Web site, you can still create one just for your department. “The easiest and most economical way is to use one of the many free or low-cost Web-site hosting services that are available on the Net,” Berry says. “Most of these services—Yahoo, Angelfire, Geocities—offer easy to use templates for designing your site in a way that looks professional and eye catching.”
However, Willey notes that these free servers can have drawbacks. “They may generate numerous pop-up ads and/or banner ads on your pages that will distract the user from the experience you intended them to have,” he says.
Many Web server sites allow you to use an easy-to-remember domain name for your own site. “This is accomplished through a process called ‘domain forwarding,” explains Berry. “You can purchase a domain name for $20-30 per year and then set it up so that when someone types in the domain, the request is automatically forwarded to the site hosted by the hosting company. For example, even though we have our own domain, our real Web site address is much longer.”
Once you have a host, you can start brainstorming with your staff about what content is the most important to present. “Start with the main page and figure out what different sections you want to have available on your site,” Willey says. “When you do this, delegate some of the responsibility to other staff members to come up with site content—someone to gather staff bios, take pictures, collect a list of local hotels and restaurants, or write a story on what it is like to be an ATC.”
If producing all this content sounds like too much work, start with the information you most want on your site and build it from there. Modular approaches, where you build your site section by section, often work well when time and resources are already stretched.
“My site is bare bones,” Goldenberg says. “It provides just the information that I need to get out there.”
Once you have a basic outline, it’s easy to go online. A few years ago, you had to learn HTML code, but common programs such Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other commercial and freeware programs eliminate the drudgery of coding for the Web.
“It’s not as time-consuming as people think,” Goldenberg says. “You can use basic programs to build your Web site. Then it’s just a matter of finding out from your school’s information technology service people how to put it up.”
After you grow comfortable working with the Web, you might want to progress to beyond the basic “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get) drag-and-drop editors. “These programs have been known to create bad code on occasion, causing slow-loading sites,’ Willey says. “If you gain a basic understanding of HTML, you can then go on to a more advanced program like Adobe Go-Live or Macromedia’s Dreamweaver to design your site.” These programs do require more effort to master, however.
Graphics are a key component of most Web sites, but you have to be judicious in their use. It’s easy to overload your site with all sorts of cool cartoons and photos, rather than focusing on the real information you want to disseminate. “You need to be very careful with graphics—less is more when it comes to Web sites,” Berry says. “One of the biggest mistakes many people make when designing their Web sites is that they try to become too cute and flood their site with too many graphics, too many bells, and too many whistles. Viewers typically are not visiting your site because they want to see all that—they are seeking information. Don’t make it difficult for them to find what they are looking for.”
You also need to be aware of copyright restrictions when it comes to graphics—you can’t just take pictures from another site and put them up on yours. “There are some royalty-free graphics available on the Web, but you don’t want to get caught using someone’s copyrighted graphics on your site,” Willey warns. “If you have questions, it’s always good to ask the person who created the graphics or took the picture. As an alternative, I suggest doing the graphics yourself or having a graphic arts major or other student help you out as a project.”
Once your Web site is posted, it’s important to keep it as current as possible. “Web sites should be updated at least once every month,” Berry says. “One of the quickest ways for people to lose interest in visiting your site is if you never change anything or update anything.”
An athletic training department Web site can’t give you more than 24 hours in the day, but it can help you make more efficient use of the time you do have. By creating your own Web site, the time and energy you invest up front will be returned many times over in the future.
For those interested in learning more about Web site design, the Webmaster’s Advisory Group will present a Webmaster’s Showcase at the NATA Convention, Thursday, June, 26, 8 a.m. to noon. The four sessions will address terminology, how to publish, what programs you can use, and other relevant topics. Visit www.nata.org for more information.
Sites to See
Checking out what other people have done is a great way to begin your Web site project. Here are some of the athletic training department Web sites mentioned in the article:
Myrtle Beach High School: www.seahawksportsmedicine.com
Bowling Green: www.bgsufalcons.ocsn.com (click the athletic training link on the left)
Xavier University: www.xavier.edu/athletics/sportsmedicine
Georgia College & State University: www.betterbobcats.com
The Lawrenceville School: www.lawrenceville.org/athletics/top.athletics.htm
If your school doesn’t have server space available to host your Web site, there many free or low-cost Web-site hosting services available on the Internet. These include: