On the Road Again

Traveling to away games can be a test of your organizational skills. The keys are planning ahead, communicating, and being prepared for every bend in the road.

By Abigail Funk

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

Training & Conditioning, 15.9, December 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1509/ontheroad.htm

When Jack Baynes, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Santa Rita (Ariz.) High School, got off the bus with his football team for a game against a local rival this fall, he followed his usual routine. He unloaded his equipment and went to find coolers, water, and ice.

Because the game was at a neutral site, a local community college, Baynes didn’t know where the coolers might be or who would be available to help him. After not too long, he found out the answer: There were no coolers, water, ice, or anything else he expected the host site to provide.

After asking around campus, someone found a six-gallon cooler—for both teams to share. That day, Baynes learned a hard lesson: Planning ahead for even the most routine travel is critical for athletic trainers.

“I think it’s fair to expect the host school to provide coolers, water, and ice,” Baynes says. “And if they can’t, it should be the responsibility of the host school to call and say we’re responsible for bringing our own. But this was a neutral site and not a normal situation. To make a long story short, communication is a very important thing when traveling.”

Communication
If communication is a key to hassle-free travel, who should you communicate with? As a first step, consider talking to athletic trainers in your league or conference about how to get everyone working together.

“In the league we play in I’d say I’m pretty lucky,” says TJ Morgan, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Md. “All the athletic trainers meet as a group three times a year—once before each season. We talk about what we need when we travel and what we can provide as the host school. We also designate responsibilities for neutral-site playoff venues. We communicate well and everybody’s on the same page as far as knowing what’s available.”

At the collegiate level, it’s common practice for each school to have necessary travel information available, either online as a “Visiting Team Information” Web page or distributed in letter form before each season. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be contact with the host school before hitting the road.

“Visiting team information should be researched by the athletic trainer before traveling anywhere,” says Gigi Garcia, MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Florida International University. “And if I’m going to a school I haven’t received information from, then I call them myself.

“I’ll also call ahead if my team has any special needs, like when I need an athletic training room for treatment,” Garcia continues. “For example, if my basketball team is going to practice the night before and again the morning of game day, and I need an athletic training room at both those times, I’d better make sure somebody will be there. A lot of those practices are after hours, and their athletic training room may not be open unless I call ahead to make arrangements.”

Shannon Courtney, MA, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer and Athletic Training Program Director at the University of Northern Colorado, also makes sure to communicate with the host school when sending an athletic training student with a team instead of a certified athletic trainer. “We always call ahead to make sure the host school is okay with also hosting an athletic training student,” she says. “We also ask if it’s okay for the student to observe if there’s an injury on the field or the court.”

Garcia sends a written document with any athletic training students who travel with a team, explaining exactly what they can and cannot do. “If I were to send a student with a team and he or she needed to use the athletic training room to conduct treatment, I would send a letter stating exactly what needs to be done with the athlete so the certified athletic trainer is apprised of the situation,” she says.

In these circumstances, communication after the event can also be a good idea. “I always follow up with the host institution to make sure the student followed our guidelines and acted professionally,” Courtney says. “I ask if there were any concerns. It is a learning process for the student, so they need feedback.”

Ready for Emergencies
Another part of being prepared at an away game is knowing what to do in an emergency situation. Courtney suggests finding out the host school’s emergency protocol information prior to arrival. If that’s not possible, it’s important to find out the procedure from the host athletic trainer as soon as you get there.

“Ask whether there is a physician on-site or on-call and what the process is for contacting him or her,” Courtney says. “You might exchange cell phone numbers in case you need to contact that athletic trainer during the game because you have an athlete who needs to see the team doctor. If it’s a contact sport like football, where is the ambulance going to be located and what is the signal for bringing EMS onto the field?”

On football gamedays at Holyoke (Mass.) High School, Melanie Martin, MS, LAT, ATC, becomes more than just the Head Athletic Trainer. She makes sure there is a police officer on duty, has the gates open so an ambulance can get to the field, and double checks that the site supervisors are ready to help with crowd control in case an emergency does arise. “We just want everybody on the same page in case of an emergency,” she says. “The most basic thing to know, whether you’re home or away, is how to get to and then transport an athlete in the most efficient way.”

Just as important is to have all student-athletes’ emergency contact information with you. “Anytime you travel, especially if you’re going out of the state or the country, you want to have that information,” Morgan says. “If you have to take a kid to the hospital, you don’t want to be unable to get a hold of their parents or be without their health insurance information. It’s a number-one priority.”

Playing Host
Of course, making a trip go smoothly also depends on the host school doing its part. At Northern Colorado, Courtney will communicate with visiting athletic trainers as far in advance as possible. For example, before hosting eight schools for a volleyball tournament in November, she sent out letters with information and questions each school needed to answer prior to its arrival.

“I asked, ‘Are you sending an athletic trainer? And if not, what items and services are you going to need?’” Courtney says. “I also assign athletic training student hosts to the visiting teams.”

At Santa Rita High School, Baynes makes sure someone is there to greet the athletic trainer as soon as he or she arrives. “We have a senior student who tells them where to park, shows them the locker room, and answers their questions,” he says. “In case there are any problems, they have a radio to contact our athletic director or whoever the on-site administrator is that day.”

Whether there’s a student host to greet the visiting team or not, when you’re the home team athletic trainer, introduce yourself and make sure the other team has what it needs. “Teams usually come here taped and ready to play, but we’ll be in the athletic training room right up until game time in case they need anything,” says Martin. “We get them water and ice, and they have access to our team doctor, too.”

If the school is only sending an athletic training student, be sure to check in with him or her.

“When you’re the host athletic trainer in a situation with a visiting student, I feel that you are there to assist them,” Garcia says. “Establish a relationship when they get there. Explain your procedures and help them learn from the experience.”

And if no one from the athletic training department is traveling with the visiting team, make sure the coach knows who you are. “When I’m the only athletic trainer for both teams, as soon as the team arrives, I introduce myself to their coach,” says Justin Eggleston, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Lincoln (Neb.) North Star High School. “I let him or her know I’m there in case they need anything, and that I’m more than happy to help. I always ask the coach, ‘If one of your players goes down, do you want me to meet you on the field or just take charge of things?’ Most coaches say to just go ahead, but they know their kids better than I do, and I don’t want to step on any toes.

“I also check in with the visiting team at halftime and then follow up with them after the game,” Eggleston adds. “Even if it’s a quick, ‘You need anything, Coach?’ they appreciate a couple of extra bags of ice or me taking the time to check on a kid who had a rough game.”

Enjoying It
Some athletic trainers find traveling to be a burden. You have to pack up all your bags and coolers, make sure you have all the student emergency contact forms, set up when you get there, sit through a whole game, and then pack it all up again to go back home. But it’s all in the way you look at it.

“The best part about traveling is that you can enjoy the game,” Eggleston says. “You may be busy, but you can still be a fan. And traveling is the best time for me to catch up on reading articles and keeping up on what’s new.”

Courtney uses any downtime before a game to chat with the host athletic trainer about the profession they share. “It’s an opportunity to meet different athletic trainers, network with them, and compare and contrast your programs,” she says. “Look at different facilities and see how they have their athletic training room set up. You might get a few ideas.”

Martin brings paperwork or a book for the longer trips. “But sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and relax a bit, because you know you’re going to work hard once you get there.”




SIDEBAR
Jet Setters
Eric Okasaki, MEd, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Hawai’i, boarded a plane with his football team in Honolulu on Thursday evening, Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. The plane landed in Houston, Texas at 7:30 a.m. on Friday. That afternoon the team took a charter flight to Monroe, La., and on Saturday, they took a bus 45 minutes to Louisiana Tech, arriving at 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. kickoff. After the game, the team boarded another bus and another charter flight back to Houston, then departed for home at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, touching down in Honolulu at 3:30 p.m.

“The biggest problem for us when we travel is that we always lose time,” Okasaki says. “We usually lose anywhere from two to three hours, and when we went to Louisiana Tech, it was five hours. When teams come here, they gain time before they have to play us.”

Besides being exhausted and trying to fight jet lag, Okasaki says the travel can dehydrate the student-athletes. “Hydration is very important for us when we travel,” he says. “We push water on our athletes, and when we board the plane in Honolulu, I have my assistants walk around and distribute Vaseline and cotton swabs. Coating their nostrils helps keep them moisturized and makes the players less prone to becoming ill.”

Okasaki doesn’t see traveling with his team as a burden, though, and uses the time to rejuvenate. “Travel does allow me to recharge a little bit because I’m out of the office and the athletic training room and only have one team to concentrate on,” he says. “I really look forward to the changes of scenery and different weather.”


SIDEBAR
The Right Bag
A key factor in making travel go smoothly is having the right bag or travel case. When deciding what type is best for you, there are several factors to think about. How much space do I need? How long do I need it to last? Will it fit on the plane? Which is better: a soft bag or hard case? Do I want wheels or over-the-shoulder straps?

“It’s very easy to work out of a case when properly organized,” says Joe Calzone, President of Calzone Case Co. “You can have multiple bins, compartments, trays, drawers, and even a detachable table on one side. An organized case can make an athletic trainer more efficient and quicker to respond. You don’t want to be fumbling for a pair of scissors or roll of tape when you’ve got an athlete ready to get back in the game.”

Ari-Med Pharmaceuticals, which sells Bushwalker athletic training bags, can customize a travel bag for you. “It’s not unusual for us to go beyond our normal stock line and do something custom if an athletic trainer has specific needs,” says Jim Bilas, Director of Marketing and Operations at Ari-Med. “The number of athletes an athletic trainer is working with and the typical length of travel time can both affect what features he or she wants.”

“I’ve learned that athletic trainers work under many different conditions, depending on the number of athletes on the team, the sport, and whether they’re home or away,” says Jay Wistrom, President of Sports Medic, Inc. “You may think the ideal scenario would be one kit to carry everything, but having two kits may be best for covering multiple sports.”

Another consideration is the amount of space available when traveling. “If you’re a high school athletic trainer traveling on a school bus, there’s a lot less room than if you’re a collegiate athletic trainer flying or riding on a charter bus with a team,” Bilas says.

Calzone agrees that size should be an athletic trainer’s first thought. “Figure out how much space you’ll have available when traveling and work from there,” he says. “You need a manageable sized case—we’ve re-worked cases for athletic trainers that have figured out they over-estimated the amount of available space.”

There are advantages to both soft-sided bags and hard cases. Hard cases typically stand up to wear and tear and last for years. Kim Watson, Marketing Manager at Wilson Case, Inc., has had clients relay stories of hard-cased trunks flying off the roof of a team van on the interstate and later being opened to find everything in its place and undamaged. Soft-sided bags, meanwhile, offer more flexibility and take up less space when not all of your equipment needs to come along.

“For a good percentage of athletic trainers, their travel kit is a part of their identity,” Wistrom says. “It’s almost an extension of them and what they do as professionals.”