Stuck in the Middle
Training staffs play an integral role in athletic summer camps, serving as the mediators between campers and parents.
Every, summer millions of children around the country flock to colleges, high schools and training facilities to participate in various athletic summer camps. Whether they’re a baseball player, basketball player, golfer or swimmer, there’s a camp for every athlete.
Coaches are the coordinators of these camps. They spend each second sharing their knowledge with campers in order to help them reach their peak performance level. Campers, meanwhile, are the heart and soul, bringing energy and enthusiasm to every drill, scrimmage and lunch break. But the members of the athletic training staff, perhaps the most vital contributors to how each camp operates, often go unnoticed. They watch attentively from the sidelines, ensuring all activities run smoothly and campers stay hydrated. In addition to keeping medical histories and injury reports, working long hours and serving as the liaison between campers and their parents when an injury or other complication occurs, athletic trainers witness every interaction between coaches and campers. Whether it is managing blisters, treating a concussion, taping ankles or enjoying the competition, the athletic trainer’s priority is each camper’s experience. “You make sure it’s an enjoyable experience for the kid, but it’s never an enjoyable experience if you get hurt doing something,” said Randy Cohen, an associate director of athletics for C.A.T.S. Medical Services at the University of Arizona. “You make sure it’s safe so they can enjoy themselves. That’s the key.”
While not every athlete sustains an injury at camp, athletic trainers want to make sure they are prepared for any situation.
Patrick Tanner is the head athletic trainer at IMG Academy, a private athletic training institute for youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletes in Bradenton, Florida. Toward the end of March each year, he starts planning for the nearly 10,000 campers who visit IMG’s campus every summer. “We start looking at the sport and saying, ‘How many fields are we using, when are these fields going to be under construction,’” Tanner said, “‘What are the dates for tournaments that will be on campus or when are certain baseball leagues starting over the summer?’” Cohen said this sort of preparation is even more pertinent if the camp is held at an outside location the staff typically doesn’t cover, like a municipal park. If an injury occurs, the athletic trainer on site is usually responsible for knowing the best emergency route and the location’s exact address in case a 911 call needs to be made.
But, knowing more about the campers’ medical histories prior to camp is possibly the best means of precaution. Campers who have medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or hypoglycemia can immediately receive proper care if this information is documented as opposed to waiting for a diagnosis from the athletic trainer. “You can recognize those things, but it gives you an advantage if you know those things and a kid comes to you having some kind of issue,” Cohen said. “It could be known if he has asthma or if he doesn’t have asthma.” Parents are usually saddled with the responsibility of making sure the athletic trainer has this information. Matthew Redd, an assistant football athletic trainer at the University of Florida, said he always works the check-in desk at the school’s football camps and asks the parents of campers if their child has any medical problems he and his staff should be aware of. Some camps, including Florida’s football camps, require campers to undergo a physical before camp in order to participate. But Redd said these physicals aren’t always clear, making the parent’s assistance even more crucial. “It does kind of concern you,” Redd said. “With our athletes, we know everything they’ve dealt with in their lifetime, while with these campers you don’t know. You just have to trust the parents that they’re revealing any other kinds of concerns and that their physical is thorough and any issue they may have is on that as well.” But the need for trust between an athletic trainer and a camper’s parents is mutual.
‘NO DIFFERENT THAN THE PEDIATRICIAN’
Certifying each camper’s health and safety is toward the top of their to-do list, but athletic trainers are also tasked with keeping parents fully informed.
“It’s no different than the pediatrician, the parent and the patient,” said Cohen of the relationship between athletic trainers and the parents of campers. “It’s the same kind of model. It’s all about having the importance of educating, communicating and letting them know what’s going on.” But how soon an athletic trainer contacts a camper’s parents following an injury or other complication can vary depending on the severity — it could be immediately or further down the line. For Tanner and his staff at IMG, if a camper rolls his ankle during a morning session, they’ll treat the injury on the sidelines and later in the training room. But if the camper can’t return for the afternoon session, the athletic training staff considers contacting the parents. Athletes from all around the world attend IMG and its camps. With parents sometimes oceans away, Tanner said he and his staff are the voice of reason when a camper sustains an injury. “The kid will call and say, ‘My leg is falling off,’” he said. “So, for us to call the parent before that happens or to get on the phone and say, ‘Hey, he fell, he scraped his leg, it’s not falling off,’ I think they feel really comfortable and confident hearing that conversation.”
In order to provide parents the most accurate information, Tanner said IMG uses Google Sheets — which can be easily accessible on a smartphone. But Tanner knows there’s only so much he and his staff can do to reassure a camper’s parents. “At the end of the day, these are the difficult conversations I have with parents or the staff has with parents over the summer,” he said. “Your kid didn’t come here to get hurt, so we’re not the people parents want to or expect to get a call from.”
When a camper gets hurt at Florida, Redd said his staff promptly takes the camper to the training room. If a trip to the doctor is deemed necessary, he makes the camper call his or her parents before leaving as opposed to making the call himself. “I think it’s important when they do call the parents for them to hear their voice so they know they’re OK and don’t freak out if I’m calling them from their son’s phone and they hear my voice first,” Redd said. “I let them just kind of say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,’ and then I always talk to the parents and answer questions.”
Redd said it’s an immense help when the parent is present at the camp. This allows them to make the decision on how much the athletic training staff is involved.
Vinny Scavo is the head athletic trainer at the University of Miami. He said he and his staff focus on providing the best care possible in order to uphold the camp’s reputation.“We want to make sure if something does happen to a camper, the parents understand the kid was taken care of and got the best care,” Scavo said. “It becomes the responsibility of the camp, and we don’t want parents to think their son or daughter wasn’t taken care of at the camp. We don’t want them to have a bad taste in their mouth for that camp.”
In the sweltering months of summer, athletic training staffs must pay close attention to the heat and whether campers are staying hydrated.
“One of the things we teach, and our coaches do a great job of doing it, is make sure we’re always monitoring (the heat),” Cohen said. “Make sure the kids get breaks, and get rest and get enough hydration, all of those things. It’s everybody’s responsibility.” Tanner said IMG employs a staff separate from his to stock all of the Gatorade and water on the sidelines and provide refills and cups. This allows Tanner and his staff to focus on enforcing water breaks and to keep an eye on campers during these breaks. “When they get a break, we’re saying, ‘Hey guys, stop talking, just drink,’” Tanner said. “It’s really important for us to make sure that they drink — if it’s available, make sure that they drink. Filling their cup up, drinking their cup, making sure they drink more than just a few ounces.”
Scavo and Redd said Gatorade sends representatives to camps at Miami and Florida, respectively, in addition to supplies. Redd said cool-down tents with towels and cold tubs are also present on all sites. “The biggest concern for us is always the heat,” Redd said. “That’s always my primary concern, and I think we do a pretty good job of preparing for that.”
‘ABOVE AND BEYOND’
From the first day campers arrive on campus until the summer ends, the athletic trainer’s No. 1 priority is ensuring all campers enjoy their experience. If everything goes according to plan, this includes the athletic training staff seeing limited action.
“When you’re covering these camps, you’re more of an insurance policy managing if something happens or to prevent something from getting worse,” Cohen said. “The truth is your ultimate goal is to do absolutely nothing. The ultimate goal is the kids all come to camp, have a great experience and never have any issues whatsoever.”
Campers attend sports camps to improve their athletic performance. But holding camps on campuses also allow schools to showcase their amenities to prospective students. Scavo said the athletic training staff’s reliability during camp could enhance parents’ perceptions of these services. “I think it’s great that the kids come down and see the school, see the facilities we have,” Scavo said. “They get to meet the coaches, meet the staff. Hopefully, what we do on our part, we do the best we can to go above and beyond so parents can see that if their kids come to Miami, they’re going to get great health care.”
Despite the long hours and constant influx of campers, athletic trainers pour all of their time and effort into guaranteeing campers have a safe, enjoyable experience. But when the summer reaches its drawn-out conclusion, it presents trainers with the opportunity to reflect. “From a training standpoint, you look at that and think it’s a pretty amazing feat what we do every summer with just 16, 17 staffers. It’s pretty neat,” Tanner said. “When you’re in the middle of the summer you’re just cruising along, but when you’re at the end of it, it’s a pretty great thing that we can manage all these kids and provide a great level of health care, athletic health care and create a safe environment for them.”
Written by Pat James
Designed by Ashley Dai
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