Athletic Training Student Tips for Football Training Camps

For every athletic training student, this time of year is one of great excitement and stress.  Football training camps in the NFL and college are almost here.  Hundreds of student athletic trainers are preparing for the biggest career-altering opportunity of their lives.  Taking care of NFL and college football players is no easy task.

I spent four summers as a athletic training student so I know exactly what these young dream-filled men and women are going through. While earning my athletic training and physical therapy degrees at Central Connecticut State University and UConn respectively, I worked one football training camp at Columbia University and three training camps for my mentor Ronnie Barnes with the New York Giants.  Every one of those long days taught me valuable professional lessons.  The camps opened the door to pursue my childhood dream of a career as an athletic trainer in the NFL.

I want to help every football training camp athletic training intern to succeed during their upcoming camp this summer.  To do so, I went to the top of the athletic training food chain.

I surveyed all 32 NFL head athletic trainers and 12 top college football athletic trainers with one simple question:

“What is the one trait or skill you view as most valuable for your best athletic training intern?”

Dear Athletic Training Student, Here’s what your new bosses are looking for:

Work Ethics – This was by far the #1 most valued trait. Athletic training students are the workhorses for athletic training departments at every level. If you truly want a career in athletic training, NOW is the time to prove it.  It’s time to work hard, work fast and work long….7 days per week.

Passion – The “head guys” want people around them who are truly passionate about their daily tasks, their careers and their lives.  They don’t want you to just put on a happy face.  Training camp passion is much deeper.  Full-time athletic trainers want their interns to have positive energy and excitement about being exactly where they are right now!

Strong Listening Skills – Master the ability to hear directions from the staff the first time you’re told and to be disciplined enough to do your job with accuracy.

Strong Knowledge of Anatomy – As I always told my assistants and interns: “It all comes down to anatomy.” Having a strong understanding of human anatomy makes you a better taper, evaluator, rehabber, strength coach, athlete and communicator.

Hands-on Skills – Helping with massages, joint mobs, flexibility techniques and manual therapy will quickly showcase your value to both the medical staff and the players themselves.

Attitude of Gratitude – Being grateful for the opportunity to work with elite athletes in a high-intensity work setting is a gift.  Grateful souls always appreciate those rare blessings.

Endurance – Being lively during the first few days of camp is easy. Your boss is looking for a rock star student athletic trainer who will be strong, focused and energetic in weeks 2, 3 & 4 when everyone else is tired, irritable and sore.

An Interest to Learn & Grow – Do you want to be a full-time athletic trainer in college or the NFL? If so, embrace your training camp role, no matter how basic the tasks may be.  Show a sincere willingness to learn about the profession and grow as a valuable member of your staff.  Be a learning sponge!

Focused – “The intern that can work without being distracted is the intern I want.” is a quote from an NFL head athletic trainer.

Skills to Be Left at Home

These were traits/skills none of the top athletic trainers saw in their top students….the very same students they look to when hiring assistant athletic trainers in the future.  Therefore, smart athletic training interns will avoid these common mistakes.

Social Media – “..they are not here to post, tweet, Instagram or Snapchat… you are here to work and make an impression that could change your career and life as an athletic trainer.”

Cell Phone Lovers – Leave your cell phones in your hotel/dorm room.  Your sweetheart, BFF, FaceBook and email can wait until 11 PM for an update.

Self-pity – With 90+ athletes to worry about, the medical staff can’t be concerned with your sore feet or tape cuts. How you handle yourself during the next 4-5 weeks working this very challenging camp will show your boss and assistants if you’re just looking for a cool summer job or the start of a long-term exciting career.

Closing Message to Athletic Training Interns

Training camp won’t be easy for you, the medical staff, the players or the coaches; nor should it be.  Training camp is a weeding-out process for anyone not willing to outwork and outperform others vying for a limited number of roles with their football team.  Training camp is an opportunity to find out who really wants to be there.

This August is your training camp. If you’re willing to work hard and apply the above priceless advice from leaders in the world of athletic training, this training camp may prove to be your launch pad for the career of your dreams!

From Picking Up Cups to Living the NFL Dream

This Sunday’s Jaguars game against the Chicago Bears will be special for me for many reasons.  For starters, it’s my 500th NFL game.  At 49 years old in my 25th NFL season, I have so much to be grateful for.

Growing up in Massachusetts, the New England Patriots were the only team any of my brothers or I would even consider cheering for.  I can still remember the rainy spring day in 1979, during my sophomore year in high school, when I decided to be an athletic trainer to work in the NFL.

Fast forward 15 years……It was the summer of 1984 during my first summer internship for Ronnie Barnes and the New York Giants.  Our first pre-season game was in Foxboro to play the Patriots!  On a side note, although I had been skydiving a couple of times from smaller planes when I was in college, the 25 minute flight to New England was my very first time flying on a “real” airplane.

Walking onto the field for the pre-game warmup was a dream come true.  My job was to carry the Gatorade cups to the bench and I was on Cloud 9 with a huge smile on my face……until I realized that the cup bags were open and I had just left 50 yards of cups trickled all the way to the tunnel!   embarrassed, red-faced and humbled, I made the walk of shame picking up the cups with the rough Boston crowd rightfully belittling me.  I laughed and said out load: “Welcome to the NFL, Mike!”

How many people have the opportunity to get into a dream job which they envisioned when they were 16 years old and then be fortunate enough to make that dream a long-term career?  Not many and I remind themself every day.  I always remind myself:  I’m simply the results of so many that were willing to help me to reach towards my dreams.  I owe it to them and myself to work hard and to help others as they pursue their carrots.

From my caring mother to my loving wife to my supportive family to my athletic training mentors Carl Krein and Ronnie Barnes, they all shared their love, support and wisdom to help me to help others.  I have so many to thank, including the Giants and Jaguars organizations themselves.  I am forever grateful.

Sunday’s game marks another reason to enjoy life.  Three of my dearest lifetime friends, Scott Mackie, Bill Thomson (a Bears fan) and Bob Kelly will be in town for the weekend.  Of my 25 season in the NFL, these friends have come to visit me for a home game for approximately 19 of those seasons.  Having loyal and caring friends like Bob, Bill and Scott is special and their friendship is priceless.

The sports medicine profession is an exciting field and it makes me want to come to work every day.  The friends I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had and the happiness I’ve found in the NFL are too many to list.  Although the work is serious, the fun and laughs are plentiful in this energetic environment.  The days may be 12 to 18 hours long but if that’s what it takes to be excited to get out of bed every day, I’ll pick up cups all day long!