Gameday in the NFL. It’s easily the best day of the week for players, coaches, athletic trainers and, of course, the fans.
I’m often asked: “What do you do on gameday during the season?” I’m currently in Minnesota with the Jaguars as we prepare for our season opener against the Vikings. This is the start of my 25th full-time season in the NFL so I know how blessed I am to be able to work in my dream job for over 1/2 of my life.
Let me show you what a typical gameday looks like for an NFL athletic trainer for a road game.
5:00 AM– Wake-up, workout, do my own core & flexibility exercises and review notes for pre-game injury updates for the head coach. This is the last quiet time I’ll have until later tonight so I enjoy the last of my “me time” while I can.
8:00 AM – Refreshed and relaxed, its time to head to the team breakfast. I check on injured players with my medical staff for any last-minute surprises. Note: we don’t like medical surprises on gameday.
8:45 AM – With medical staff and supplies, we head to the stadium to prepare for the game ahead of the players. The prepping of supplies – about twenty-five miles worth of tape, twenty-five gallons of fluids and forty-five jock straps along with the trunks of emergency equipment is completed the night before by my awesome assistants Justin Bland and Rod Scott. We’re fully dressed in game attire – minus the game shirt in favor of a T-shirt – it’s “work time” to prepare 45 players and staff for the game.
9:30 AM – The first of the buses arrive and it’s “go time” for us athletic trainers. What does this mean? We put to use our sports medicine skills such as taping 80+ ankles, aggressively preparing the players with massage, manual therapy techniques to increase joint range of motions, soft tissue treatment to enhance muscle and fascia blood flow, flexibility drills to promote movement patterns and the many pre-game routines that these world-class athletes need to compete at an elite level for 3+ hours. Most players have little rituals that they need to strictly follow in the athletic training room in order to have that “great game” – some may call it superstitions. Each player has a solid routine that they always follow such as a certain sequence of stretches or exact placements of athletic tape.
10:30 AM – The fast pace and high energy pre-game work continues along with updating the staff about important medical issues related to the players for the game that may impact coaching strategy and player availability.
12:10 PM – As the players head to the field for pre-game warmups, the medical staff follows. The unwritten rule: “If the Athletic Training Room gets quiet, you’re probably last for something.” Run to the field!
12:20 PM – Check every sideline trunk, supply and emergency gear one last time. I like to watch my injuries players to see how they move during warmups as well. I introduce myself to the sideline support staff, review emergency details with the paramedics, meet the airway management physician, review the communication format with the athletic trainer field observer and have fun catching up with the other NFL teams’ medical staff. We traditionally wish them few injuries but the “good luck in the game” is always said with a smile on our faces because we know it’s a lie. As one of my fellow PFATS athletic trainer said to me before a big game: “Don’t give me that BS Ryan! We want to kick your ass just as much as you want to kick ours!” He was 100% right!
12:45 PM – Update the team VIP’s of anything related to the health of our players. I strongly stress to the player the need to hyper-hydrate and to get any needed sports medicine assistance now. The locker room is buzzing with energy as we get ready to take the field and do our job. It an awesome and fun environment to be around. This is the first time I usually put my “To Do List” aside and really get fired up for what’s about to happen on the field!
1:00 PM – The loud “They’re Heading Out!” cries out and the medical staff, with our pockets and medical belt packs properly stocked, excitedly head to the tunnel.
1:04 PM – The traditional high-fives, ammonia caps, words of encouragement and nervous claps on the shoulder pads are handed out as the deafening crowd noise makes it impossible to keep my composure. I shake the Head Coach’s hand as I hand him a drink of water and follow through on a few player pre-game rituals, it’s time for the kickoff. The energy, the noise and the look in our players eyes is addicting! “THIS is why I love this job” echoes in my head and it’s such a rush to be right there as the stadium begins to rock! As to what I scream at that point, I’ll keep that to myself….
1:05 to 4:15 PM – monitoring the field, racing out to evaluate and treat injured players, updating the Head Coach, position coach and special team coach on every injury on issues that affect performance, administering first aid to injured players, conversing with our doctors and assistant athletic trainers on medical injuries, taping/splinting/bracing injuries as needed and providing positive reinforcement to struggling players are just some of the duties that I juggle on the field during a game. It’s multitasking at it’s best in a high energy and testosterone-filled setting with one eye on the field and one eye on the players on the sideline.
4:30 to 5:45 PM – The post-game buzz. No matter a win or a loss, I evaluate and treat post-game injuries and prepare them to fly back to Jacksonville. The use of x-ray, specific sports medicine techniques and supplies helps this medical process run smoothly.
5:45 to 5:55 PM – Strip, run to the shower, put on suit and tie and race to the waiting 5 team buses.
6:30 PM – Security check and board the plane, hopefully with a victory in hand. Update the VIP’s on medical issues, coordinate the icing and positioning of the players with my assistants for the long ride home. Finalize any special tests and morning treatment lists.
30,000 feet – Eat something healthy & relax.
I love my job as an athletic trainer & physical therapist in the NFL. It’s not easy. It’s a 7 day a week job for 6-7 straight months but I’m not complaining. I love the challenge and the responsibility associated with my role. I have an outstanding medical staff with a simple objective: To keep the players in the very best of health to help them to do their job.