Balancing Act

Between classes, training room hours, and team practices, athletic training students have a lot on their plates. Here are some tips for managing time effectively.

By Abigail Funk

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. She can be reached at: afunk@MomentumMedia.com

Training & Conditioning, 15.5, July/August 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1505/balancingact.htm

It’s no secret that, as athletic training students, you have committed to many hours of work outside the classroom along with a rigorous major, which can make college feel like a balancing act. But with a positive outlook and the right set of tools, you can survive even the hardest program. Here are some tips from veteran athletic training professors who have assisted hundreds of students through the major.

Set a schedule. Whether you make a to-do list each day or fill out a weekly calendar, using a written schedule will help keep you on top of your responsibilities. “I suggest making it a habit to use a planner or a calendar,” says Christopher Ingersoll, PhD, ATC, FACSM, Athletic Training Curriculum Director of the graduate program at the University of Virginia. “When your schedule gets busy and overwhelming and somebody tells you to do something and then you go on to another task, it’s very easy to forget that ‘something.’ If you record everything, you won’t start missing assignments when you’re busy.”

How can you effectively put the to-dos into a schedule? Daniel Gorman, LAT, ATC, Director of the Athletic Training Education Program at Mount Union College, suggests you think about all the tasks in front of you, estimating how much time each will take, which tasks are most important, and how each can be scheduled in a specific time slot. “You have to be really sharp about this right out of the gate,” he says. “You have to plan your study time, athletic training time, and social time accordingly.”

When figuring out the best time slots, you should also weigh each assignment’s level of difficulty. Ingersoll tells students to find their circadian rhythm. Just like some people are morning people and some aren’t, he suggests tackling the most difficult assignments when you’re at your sharpest.

If you have a term project due in what may seem like the far future, break it down into smaller tasks as soon as you get the assignment. Schedule when you will complete the research, first draft, charts, etc., so you can complete the project over several weeks.

“It can be overwhelming when you’re busy and you see a giant task coming up,” says Ingersoll. “You may feel like you need a big chunk of time to get it done, but if you break it down into smaller tasks, you can make progress on it gradually, which better fits athletic training students’ schedules.”

As you follow your schedule, make sure to remain flexible. “Athletic training students live crazy lives and interruptions come all the time,” says Ingersoll. “You just need to be prepared for distractions and allow time for them. You’ll develop a sense for this as your college career goes on.”

Use school resources. Professors, academic advisors, clinical coordinators, program directors, and academic support services are available for your benefit. “Go to academic support services not only for help with time management, but also for study skills,” says Gorman. “Some students have a solid study skills foundation from high school and some don’t. Study skills are really important, and I would advise students to get help before they are overwhelmed. Once you get buried, it’s hard to recover.”

Use each other. Whether you participate in a formal mentoring program, or meet with peers to study every Sunday night, other athletic training students can be great resources. At the University of Tulsa, Robin Ploeger, EdD, LAT, ATC, Athletic Training Curriculum Director, says helping each other will benefit all parties involved. “Our older students have realized that if they’re answering questions of younger students, it’s a good way to review,” says Ploeger. “They might not have had the taping lab recently or have forgotten the name of a simple test. Our students have taken it upon themselves to help each other out.”

An official mentoring program implemented last year at Midwestern State University has helped immensely. “Students set up a certain day and time to meet once a week and review anything they want to,” says Jennifer Lancaster, MS, LAT, ATC, Athletic Training Education Program Coordinator at Midwestern. “Using each other is a great tool for athletic training students.”

Take advantage of downtime. “Students rarely have class straight through from eight in the morning to noon,” says Ploeger. “Utilize that time between classes to study. Practice is another time that is overlooked. That’s two or three hours you could be using to ask questions, study, and get your proficiencies done.”

If you’re assigned to work several hours in the athletic training room and there aren’t any athletes coming in, you can use that time to your advantage as well. Quiz yourself and each other for an upcoming test or complete some smaller tasks on your to-do list. Save the bigger assignments for the evenings when you have peace and quiet in your room or at the library.

Just say ‘no.’ It’s okay to say no. Though you’re motivated to help other people, it’s important to take care of your needs first, including both your physical and mental health. If you are operating with a lack of sleep, try to shift your academic schedule or reorganize plans in your social calendar.

“Athletic trainers are people persons. We’re inclined to serve and when we’re asked to do something, we do it. We sometimes take on too much,” says Ingersoll. “You’ve got to be honest with people—not taking on too much must be a priority for you.”

End of the line. Athletic training students are no strangers to feeling overwhelmed. So what should you do when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope? Talk to someone. Whether you start with a professor, your clinical instructor, or even your program director, they’re going to want to help you.

“Communication is the key,” says Ingersoll. “People appreciate the fact that you’re communicating when you’re struggling with your time management. Nobody will be happy, including the student who’s falling behind, if it turns into an emergency situation.”

“The worst thing that can happen is for the student just to be too embarrassed or afraid to talk to anybody,” says Ploeger. “We can often help a student if they come to us midway through the semester, but once the semester is over and grades are given, there’s no changing them.”

Lancaster says that burnout is a big problem in athletic training, and there’s no use in feeling exhausted while you’re still a student. “We understand that it’s a time-demanding job,” says Lancaster. “And sometimes you just need to walk away for a little bit, so I encourage students to talk to someone.

“At the same time, students have and currently are completing athletic training programs all over the country,” continues Lancaster. “If you truly want to become a certified athletic trainer, it can be done!”