In many respects, athletes are like children and the first word they learn is trainer. He is the one who can do the most for them.
"Professional athletes are perhaps the biggest babies there are," says one professional trainer. "I don't mean they aren't tough or that they fake injuries, but they get scared when they get colds or cut their fingers or when their tummies hurt.
"They'll call you at all hours of the night with various problems. All you can do is take care of them like you would one of your own kids. When you get right down to it, I guess that's what most athletes are, anyway - kids; high-priced and usually worth every penny of it, but still kids."
The trainer hears more complaining than the coach and he has to be an amateur psychiatrist. He does as much healing with his mouth as he does with his tape and whirlpool machine.
The responsibilities of the athletic trainer fall into three general areas: prevention treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. Trainers are not doctors.
"We work closely with the doctor, and under his supervision, but theirs is a whole different ball game," says Bubba Tyer, trainer for the Washington Redskins.
The importance of the trainer is that he is usually the first individual to see and treat the athletic injury. He has to act quickly and competently.
The trainer's greatest satisfaction is seeing a player go through an entire season without a serious injury, or an injured player recover completely.
Once in awhile, a trainer even saves a life.
That is what happened in a National Basketball Association playoff game at Capital Centre in 1975. NBA official Mendy Rudolph collapsed, while working the game, when a blood clot moved from his tightly bandaged right leg to his lung. He lost consciousness and went into convulsions.
Dr. Stan Lavine, the Washington Bullets' team physician and the late Bill Ford, team trainer, rushed onto the floor, kept the unconscious Rudolph from swallowing his tongue and saved his life.
Ford used what is called an Arnold screw to pry open Rudolph's clenched jaw so Lavine could get his hand into Rudolph's mouth to get his tongue back.
Every professional basketball football, baseball, hockey and soccer team has at least one trainer. Colleges have head trainers, assistant trainers and student trainers, both men and women. But the further down you go, into high school, junior high school and little league, trainers are rare.
There are more injuries at those levels of competition than in the pros or colleges, simply because there are more people participating.
Approximately 40,000 high schools in the United States have interscholastic athletic programs. Dr. David Bachman, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and the director of the Center for Sports Medicine at Northwestern University's School of Medicine and team physician to the Chicago Bulls of the NBA, says that less than 1 per cent of these schools have trainers.
"I know that in Illinois, we have 726 high schools and only 25 certified trainers. We have five professional teams in Chicago and several large universities in the state, so there can't be that many high schools in the state with trainers on their facilities."
Things are no better locally. Few high schools in the district and Maryland have trainers. However, five of the 23 high schools in Fairfax County have trainers.
The reason for the lack of trainers is simple enough to understand. Most school districts are in financial straits and there isn't any money to hire trainers.
Larry Nottingham of Edison High School in Fairfax County is one of the few certified high school trainers anywhere in the country.
He teaches five classes a day and serves as trainer for all of Edison's boys and girls sports. He has two student helpers.
Nottingham is paid $1,300 a year extra for his services.
A college trainer earns between $10,000 and $20,000 and the trainers with professional teams usually between $20,000 and $30,000.
"Trainers in high schools is a new concept," says Nottingham. "In the past, the coach has always served as the trainer, too, and not many people thought much about it. But a coach's major area of concentration is coaching and he isn't trained in the treatment of injuries. He has too many other things to do. That's understandable, but the safety of the kids shouldn't be compromised."
Most high schools in the metropolitan area arrange to have a doctor at the game, which is fine, but 90 per cent of the injuries that occur in high school football, for instance, occur in practice.
In 1969, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) was established to provide leadership and guidelines in the area of professional preparation.
There are two basic ways to become a certified trainer. One can complete an NATA-approved graduate or undergraduate curriculum. There are approved undergraduate curricula in 48 universities in the United States that offer this certification and five approved graduate programs exist.
The other way to qualify is through an apprenticeship program. This involves approximately two years or 1,800 hours of clinical experience under the direct supervision of a certified athletic trainer.
Only two states, Texas and Georgia, have licensing laws for trainers.
The injury rate in football is much greater than in any other sport. Studies show that the injury rate in football is more than 100 per cent.
Tyer of the Redskins, who got his certification by going to Lamar Tech and then working under a certified trainer, says what bothers him most is "seeing an injury that could have been prevented. We're well qualified at recognizing injury or potential illness and the doctors depend on us a lot to tell them about a particular player.
"When a player tells you something is wrong, you have to assume he is telling the truth, no matter what it looks like or what you think. You have to believe him and treat him as best you can and encourage him to get back playing as soon as he can. I never question anyone who says he has an injury."
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