Gratitude, Change & a Trusted Vision

Ryan Jags 2011aApril 25, 1988 was the day my childhood NFL dream came true.

Ronnie Barnes, the Head Athletic Trainer for the New York Giants and one of my mentors, asked me if I wanted to join his staff as a full-time assistant athletic trainer.  I was 25 years old and a month away from graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Physical Therapy, my second degree in 7 years.

Nine years earlier, as a sophomore in high school, I had set my mind and heart on “being an athletic trainer in the NFL!” after “Miss G”, a caring guidance councilor at Mohawk Trail High School, showed me info on the profession of athletic training.  I still remember racing home that rainy spring day to share my powerful vision with my family.

End of a Dream

Friday, February 7, 2014 was my last day with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  It was the end of a 26 year career that encompassed 533 NFL games including 2 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl victory.  It was a decision I made three weeks early to rebalance my life, allowing me to spend more time with my family.  With a loving and amazingly supportive wife and two children under the age of 6, I’m ready to prioritize my family for the first time the way they deserve after a long season where I work 7 days per week for 5 1/2 straight months.

Making the Call

I’m no fool.  I know I had only 1 of 32 jobs in the world’s #1 most profitable sports league.  It goes beyond that when it comes down to those that you love.

What does it take to make such a big decision?

  • Gratitude – I’ve lived a childhood dream for over half my life with so many memories, experienced amazing opportunities, met so many wonderful people and developed outstanding skills for the next professional chapter in my life.  I have so much gratitude and appreciation for my family, my assistants, my doctors, my athletes, my medical consultants and mentors who have helped me throughout the years.  As I always say: “I’m simply the result of so many wonderful people who were willing to help me along the way!”
  • Desire for Change – I’m ready for a change, as is my family.  I trust my skills and my abilities to make this change something special.
  • Trusted Vision of Purpose – We all need PURPOSE if we want to be a leader in our life.  I have a very strong sense of purpose in my life and I trust that vision wholeheartedly.  My Personal Mission Statement is: To Enhance the Health of Others.

My purpose in this next chapter is to take what my staff and I have created in a professional football athletic training room setting working with world-class athletes and share it with millions of non-professionals interested in decreasing their pain, increasing their physical function and maximizing their active lifestyle.  Now that’s something to get excited about, huh?!

Giving Thanks

I have so many people to thank and I’m not sure where to start so I won’t.  The tens of thousands of extra special people who I’ve come into contact with over the last 26 years in the NFL are all somehow on that list.

I’ve had a wonderful career and I don’t take that for granted.  I’m thrilled for what I will created in Phase 2 of my profession.  We only live once so I plan on making my life grand.  As for the professional life, it will be exciting and well aligned with my Mission Statement.  In regards to my athletic life, I’ll be working my ass off to be extremely healthy in aspect of my life with lots of crazy/challenging races to keep my body and mind razor-sharp.  For the personal life part, it will be filled with lots of love and laughter….just the way I like it!

Gameday For An NFL Athletic Trainer

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.

 

Kicking Off the NFL Training Camp

Today is commonly referred to as”Report Day” in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Hotel check-in at 10, medical updates at noon, miscellaneous updates and meetings followed by the big team meeting tonight.  Curfew at 11 and the first practice tomorrow.  It’s an exciting time for players, support staff, coaches and fans alike.

This is the start of my 25th season in the NFL after 3 training camps as a summer intern athletic trainer/physical therapist with the New York Giants.  I have to admit I’m more exited about this 2012 season than I have been for 10 years!  With new ownership, a new Head Coach, more than a dozen new coaches, a new locker room and a new positive approach to winning, I’m not alone with my enthusiasm for the Jaguars in 2012.

From the opportunity that New York Giants Head Athletic Trainer Ronnie Barnes blessed me with in 1984 by offering me the one summer internship with the New York Giants to spending well over ½ of my life employed in the NFL, I’m honored to represent “the shield” of the NFL.  Ronnie remains a close friend and mentor who I respect immensely.

Training camp is the start of so many opportunities for so many people.  From the surprise superstar players’ careers blossoming, to loyal coaches growing as teachers, to hard-working medical staffs taking huge strides in keeping players healthy at an elite level to fans passionately supporting their team, so much good comes out of the start of a professional season.

The Game Plan

I plan on posting a weekly training camp blog with the inside scoop on life within an NFL franchise.  When I live football 24/7 with 90 players and 60+ football staff members, there is no shortage of interesting info to write about.  I will never write about any specific player injuries for obvious reasons.

Questions From You

What do you want to read about from an NFL training camp? 

What “behind the magic curtain” NFL insight would you be interested in learning?

Is there a question that you’ve always had about an NFL team that SportCenter just doesn’t seem to answer?

I’m all ears and I look forward to sharing my life in the NFL with you.  Go Jags!

Mastering NFL Injury Reports for Fantasy Football Owners

I have to admit, I’m very impressed with the popularity of fantasy football and how many football fans are involved in fantasy leagues around the world.  As the Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist for the Jacksonville Jaguars, I can see why fantasy football is so appealing resulting in an elevated interest in NFL stats each week.

It makes each and every game exciting because fans are now interested in the  “players’ numbers” and not just the final score.

Rule #1

I’ll tell you right up front, I have never been involved in any fantasy football leagues.  When it comes to medical information about NFL players, my Rule #1 is to never discuss any details about an NFL player’s injury that hasn’t already been reported in the newspaper.

It’s a simple rule I learned from one of my mentors, Ronnie Barnes, Head Athletic Trainer of the New York Giants.  I don’t discuss details about medical injuries involving my players with my wife, my best friends or my family.  It’s easy to understand why and, as a full-time employee of the NFL for the past 24 seasons, it protects the private medical issues of my players.

Reading Between the Lines of an NFL Injury Report

With that being said, sharing how the medical reports are created within an NFL team would be helpful for fantasy football owners as they prepare their game plans for weekend roster moves.  Each NFL team has their own philosophy on how they practice injured players, how they manage an injury during the week and when they test injured players during the weekend.  A few years ago the NFL standardized how each team reports injuries to the league office to help avoid surprises when it comes to disclosing medical issues involving players.

Knowing how to read between the lines of these reports can make your job as a fantasy football owners’ job so much easier and make you look like a genius.  While the new guy in the league is drafting a kicker, you’ll be benching the player who is simply a medical decoy being used to confuse the opposing team’s game planning.

Trust me, it’s a chess match on this side of the fence.  I’ll share with you tips on how to “crack the code” to use NFL injury reports and player statuses as a huge advantage for your fantasy football team.

Common Questions

What’s really the difference between questionable, doubtful & probable?”

If someone is limited in practice, is that player just playing the role of a backup for the starters during practice?”

If player X has a concussion, will he typically be cleared to play in the game the following weekend?”

These are some of the questions that many of you ask yourselves as you prepare for the weekend games.  Here’s the inside scoop on the manner in which the injuries are managed by the clubs.

Inside the Percentages

Probable – 75% chance of playing in the game.

Questionable – 50% chance of playing in the game.

Doubtful – 25% chance of playing in the game.

The Golden Reps

The number of reps that the starting offense and defense has on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are very limited.  These reps are treated like gold by the offensive coordinator (OC) and defensive coordinator (DC).  Therefore, players that take “snaps with the number ones” are expected to play on Sunday.

If a team doesn’t think the star veteran corner back will be ready for the game, they surely want their young corner to “get the reps” with the starters to be ready for the game.  Those quality reps with the other 10 starting players on that side of the ball are very valuable and are usually given to the player expected to play on Sunday.

So if you read that an injured player is only taking “some of the reps” and is “rehabbing on the side”, especially late in the week, it’s more than likely you’ll see him on the field Sunday…..in street clothes.

The Stats Killers: Hammys & Groins

As you’ve read in my recent sports medicine blog postings on hamstring and groin injuries, these are difficult injuries to return from quickly for skilled positions such as RB, WR and DB’s.  Until the reports say he is running at least 85% by Wednesday and “full speed” on Friday, don’t expect that player to impress you on Sunday.  When a skilled player with a lower extremity soft tissue injury is being interviewed and he gives you the “day-to-day” quote, Sunday might not be his breakout performance.

With both of these injuries, the player’s top end speed is always in question.  The opposing players know it too and they use it to their advantage.  That’s why a player coming back from a strained hamstring or a strained groin may be playing in the game but their stats will be watered down for the first week or so.

The X Factor

You know that you want it.  They want to find it just as badly as you do.  It’s the “X Factor” that gives you the huge numbers come Sunday night.  It’s the tips which help you put the perfect fantasy football team on the field each Sunday.  That’s how you make the key roster move which results in having the WR who has a career day or how you trade for the young QB mid-week who turns out to be a hometown hero with a monster game.

Understanding NFL medical reports and using sports medicine tips will help you think like an NFL GM and give you the X Factor advantage in your fantasy football league.

Where Are You Getting Your Sports Medicine Advice?

I read a great article this weekend in the Health section of the Wall Street Journal titled: “As Sports Medicine Surges, Hope and Hype Outpace Proven Treatments”.  It exposed a very common problem for today’s amateur athletes.

The insightful article written by Gina Kolata gives examples of motivated mature athletes with orthopedic injuries and no clear direction to assist their efforts to get back to their sports.

In an effort to regain their health, the trend is for some desperate athletes to chase expensive fads and unproven recovery techniques.  In doing so, they’re spending way too much money and wasting lots of time.

Deciphering and interpreting the massive amount of sports medicine info available is not easy for anyone.  If you Google search “low back pain” you’ll have 22,200,000 articles to read.  Search for “treating knee tendonitis” and you only have 418,000 websites to peruse. Good luck trying to find a simple solution for the chronic knee pain that keeps you from losing that extra 20 lbs.

Are you looking for simple answers to your sports related injuries?  Sure you do…..and you’re not alone!

Why I Created MRF

Marshall, Director of Enthusiasm

The reason why I created MikeRyanFitness.com is to help people.  Besides, my free sports medicine website has saved me dozens of calls, texts and emails from family and friends from all over the world seeking medical advice.  The MRF website has proved to be helpful in reducing the number of sports medicine questions asked by neighbors while I run with my happy dog Marshall.

MRF is a fun sports medicine resource designed to help optimistic athletes like YOU to avoid both simple and complex injuries.  How many athletes, young and old,  are in need of a easy-to-use sports medicine resource to help them to quickly recover from an orthopedic injury?

It’s more than you can imagine. This website fuses my passion to help people with my passion for sports medicine. I’m lucky that I’ve spent my lifetime doing both.

 Pain Has No Geographic Limits

I’ve received dozens of great emails a month from athletes in pain and highly motivated to get back to the sports that they love.  The emails range from a professional soccer player in Croatia with chronic knee pain following 2 ACL reconstructions and a microfracture surgery to a field hockey player from Tasmania, Australia who was excited to read my article on knee fat pad pain on the MRF website! Injury prevention and promoting sound and proven injury recovery programs is a high priority for MikeRyanFitness.

 Keeping it Simple

My motto for the information provided on MikeRyanFitness.com remains the same:  Provide sports medicine information that is simple to understand, easy to use and it creates FAST results.  I’m a firm believer that this approach helps athletes understand their injury better and allows them to work more effectively with members of their healthcare team.

I’ve learned from over 23 years as a certified athletic trainer/physical therapist in the NFL that if I ask an injured athlete the proper questions, 90% of them are simply trying to find ways to:

1.  Decrease their pain

2.  Enhance their ability to move with less effort

3.  Increase both their muscle strength & joint range of motion

If the sports medicine world were to stay focussed on those goals, athletes at any age would be active and healthier much faster.  I can promise you that MikeRyanFitness will do just that.  Sign up for our newsletter and let me help YOU!

Share the Love

This website is a hobby of mine motivated by my passion to help others to enjoy a lifestyle of positive health and fitness.  In an effort to enhance the lives of 1,000,000 people in the next 2 years, I need your help.  Please take a moment to pass on my message, my website and my information to others for FREE sports medicine info to help improve the quality of their lives.

Thank you for caring to share!

Finalizing an NFL Roster


Saturday, September 3rd at 6:00 PM EDT.

That’s the deadline that will directly impact the careers of more NFL players than any other day of the year.

It’s the time at which all 32 teams must submit their final NFL roster for the upcoming 2011 season to the NFL office.  Heading into the final preseason game each NFL team has 80 lockers filled by grown men with their eyes on a career as a professional football player.  As of Saturday night each team must trim their team to 53 players, only eight days before the first Sunday of the new gridiron season.

Do you ever wonder how the teams finalize their rosters?  Let me share with you the inside scoop on how NFL teams prepare to make these tough calls.

Each team will decide which players will stick around with the opportunity to make million$ and who will get escorted down the long dark hall to hand in their playbook only to be given directions to Concourse B at the airport.

Grading a Player

Each team differs in how they make their final cuts.  Typically, the following key factors are used to determine who “makes the cut”:

1.  Past Performance

2.  Athletic Potential

3.  Injuries

If a player is extremely talented and healthy, the call is easy.  Meanwhile if a young player with great potential is playing in a position of high need for that team, is lacking playing experience in a big-time football setting and is struggling with nagging injuries, that 6 PM deadline is coming way too fast for the club GM’s and head coaches making those decisions.

My responsibilities as head athletic trainer/physical therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars during this process is to provide our General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Jack Del Rio with a complete medical update on all of our players on a daily basis.  From the minor muscle “tweeks” to the major fractures to the unmentionables, it’s my job to coordinate the entire Jaguars’ medical department, which is treating each and every one of the player’s injuries.

The Crossroads

There are only 6 options for each player and it’s up to the team to determine which road they take.

  1. Active Roster – total of 53 players.
  2. Waived (“cut”) – completely released from the team healthy.
  3. Traded – Players can be “shipped off” to another team.
  4. Injured Reserve – For a player who is currently injured and unable to medically perform their duties as a football player at the start of the regular season.
  5. Practice Squad – For 8 younger players and this has specific requirements to qualify.  “Clearing waivers” is the first step to being able to be signed by a team 24 hours after being released by an NFL team.
  6. Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) – For players who have not participated in any team drills or practices during this year and are medically unable to participate at the start of the regular season.

Volume of Info

As you can imagine, the amount of information on each and every player to be analyzed is huge.  The Jaguars’ Player Personnel Department and the coaching staffs work extremely hard at grading this data.  From comparing workout data, to watching practice/game footage, to factoring in medical reports to relying on their gut instincts on the capabilities of each player, making the final is not easy.

With a non-existent off-season this year, we have no Mini Camps, no OTA practices, no workout reports and only a minimal amounts of practices to help make these decisions for approximately $120 million worth of players for the 2011 season.

The End Result

It’s not an easy task but the objective is always the same: Create the very best NFL roster possible to help the Jags’ win as many game as possible.  I have extreme trust in my medical staff and the Jaguars’ football staffs that we will put the very best team on the field come this Monday morning.

Many childhood dreams and professional careers hang in the balance for players on all 32 teams.  The average length of an NFL player’s career is only 3.2 years.  Come Saturday night at 6 PM, that average is about to get even shorter.

NFL Training Camp…Let the Fun Begin!

Confession time:  It’s the toughest part of the year…18 hours days, long busy practices in the 100+ degree heat and humidity, huge #’s of injuries creating 3 page injury reports, only 4 hours of sleep a night in the team hotel away from my wife and young children…..but I truly love being a part of an NFL Training Camp!

As I enter my 27th NFL training camp – 24 full-time and 3 as a summer intern with the NY Giants – I know the drill well.  At the young age of 48, simple math tells the story.  I’ve spent well over half of my life employed by the NFL and enjoying the life as a certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist working with some of the best athletes in the world.  It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a career that has provided me more amazing opportunities than I could list in an hour.

I’m not interested in speculating about the details of the NFL lockout. It’s way above my “pay grade” and I trust the issues will be worked out by people a lot smarter than I am.

The reason why I know that training camp is where I want to be can be traced back to two distinct days about 9 years apart.

I still remember the day during my sophomore year in high school in western Massachusetts when I raced home to tell my mother and family that I was going to college to be an athletic trainer and I was going to work in the NFL.  I was so excited to have my career “carrot” to work towards.  The fire was officially lit on that rainy October day in 1978.

After working a preseason camp for Columbia University’s football team and then 3 training camps for the New York Giants between 1983 and 1986 while working on my athletic training degree at Central Connecticut State University and a physical therapy degree at UConn, I was hoping for an opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL on a full-time basis.  It was the following summer when that dream was supercharged with the passion and enthusiasm that still drives me today.

During the summer of 1987 while entering my senior year at UConn to complete my 7th year in college while finishing my second degree, I had to pass on the offer to work my 4th summer training camp with the New York Giants.  Instead, I was required to complete an 8 week affiliation (another way of saying “you won’t be getting paid”) with the Visiting Nurses Association in Hartford, Connecticut.  It was a wonderful learning experience with extremely passionate healthcare professionals who travel into homes and housing projects to provide physical therapy to individuals who are unable to travel to a rehab setting.

That summer in 1987 opened my eyes and my heart.  I knew with every bone in my body that working in the NFL as an athletic trainer/physical therapist was exactly what I wanted to do for the next 30+ years.  That vision was crystal clear and I was willing to work harder than ever before to make that dream come true!

April 23, 1988 at 8:15 AM.  That was the time when Ronnie Barnes, Head Athletic Trainer for the New York Giants offered me a full-time position on his staff!  I still get goosebumps and quite emotional every time I think of the moment that my 10 year dream came true.

I tell myself every day how blessed I am for the many wonderful things in my life.  I’m doing what I love to do….when the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players arrive and the 2011 NFL training camp begins!

 

How Can I Help You?

“How Can I Help You?

What Are Your Sports Medicine Questions?

These five simple words can be the difference between someone living a life of pain and limitations compared to a energetic life with great health.

Medical issues can be confusing and intimidating.  I’m entering my 24th year as a certified athletic trainer/physical therapist in the NFL and I have moments when this big medical world is confusing.  So no need to feel isolated, you’re not alone with your unanswered questions.

I’ve been getting amazing emails from Mike Ryan Fitness readers with great questions about sports injuries, tips on enhancing their recovery, injury prevention, knee strengthening tips, what was wrong with me volunteering to Run with the Bulls in Spain, tips on recovering after a surgery,…etc.

Commenting after my Sports Medicine Blog is always a great way to ask me a question while helping others who may have the exact same question.

Now it’s your turn.  What sports medicine questions do you have for me?  Let ’em fly and let me help you get back on the field where you really want to be.