Updated: Mar 4, 2020
In this blog, Kristian has asked me to write about my journey from injured school-aged athlete to becoming a UK Sports Therapist and then making the gigantic leap into Athletic Training!
I will let you know my thoughts and feelings along the way (and possibly some top tips too!).
Like a large proportion of Therapists, my first insight into the world of sports medicine came through self-injury. In 2007, I tore my ACL and had multiple surgeries which kept me from playing football for 18 months. During this long rehabilitation, I received fantastic one-to-one care from a physiotherapist and this is where my interest was first sparked. This shaped my subject choices in High School and Sixth Form, as I had a dream of becoming a Physiotherapist. After leaving High School, I went to Windsor Sixth Form in Halesowen, United Kingdom. We were extremely fortunate to have a full-time Sports Therapist on the staff, who was Kristian. For the 2 years I was at Sixth Form, I witnessed the work of a Sports Therapist in the secondary school/Sixth Form setting. Seeing Kristian working closely with athletes throughout the full range of care and in all aspects of sports medicine, is what inspired me to apply for a degree in Sports Therapy.
'Seeing Kristian work closely with athletes...is what inspired me'
In September 2012, I began my BSc Sports Therapy degree at University College Birmingham, United Kingdom. Although this course is relatively small, it taught me the foundational skills and knowledge that has got me to where I am today. Being based in the city centre of Birmingham, there were plenty of opportunities for work experience in and around the area. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work at a high level of semi-professional football with Rushall Olympic FC for 2 years whilst I finished my degree. This experience was invaluable in helping me practice and master the skills I’d been taught in the classroom, as well as gaining an insight into working with high level football players. In addition, the University has a sports injuries clinic where students were required to work in as part of one of their class modules Once a week we would have patients from the public come in and be assessed by the students, under the supervision of our Lecturer. Although this was often stressful for students, as many of them hadn’t assessed patients on their own before - it gave many of us a confidence boost when we were on the same page as our Lecturer in terms of our clinical impression and treatment plans.
Transitioning into Athletic Training
After graduating from UCB in September 2015, I worked at Dudley College with their football team for a year, as well as working at local supermarket. The lack of full-time, paid opportunities in Sports Therapy at the time quickly became demoralising and I was seeking a new challenge. I began to look at similar opportunities abroad and found Athletic Training to be the most similar to Sports Therapy. In November 2015, I applied for my Masters in Athletic Training Degree at The University of Texas at Arlington. After a couple of Skype interview’s I was accepted into the program and moved to Arlington, Texas in May 2016. Having never visited Texas before, it was quite nerve wracking going into the unknown as you can imagine. But instead of cowering at the opportunity, I tried to embrace the challenge as best as I could.
'Instead of cowering at the opportunity, I tried to embrace the challenge'
In June 2016, I started the Masters program. In many aspects it was similar to my Sports Therapy degree at UCB – with learning in-depth functional anatomy, pathophysiology, injury aetiology, orthopaedic assessment skills, first aid and therapeutic modalities in the first year. As this was an entry-level masters, I was fortunate as I already knew a large percentage of the material so most of it acted as a refresher in the first semester. As we entered into the second semester, the main differences between the Sports Therapy and Athletic Training degrees began to show. As part of one of our classes, we were required to attend a ‘clinical site’ a minimum of 3x a week. Being in a large metroplex area such as: Dallas-Fort Worth, we had over 50 clinical sites within the vicinity. The work experience sites on offer ranged from professional teams, such as FC Dallas and the Dallas Wings (Women’s NBA team), to high level Divison 1 Colleges such as TCU and SMU. I shadowed orthopaedic doctors and physical therapists in the clinic setting and experienced medical care at elite-level high schools. Coming from England, it was difficult to get my head around how serious they take sports at the high school and college-level in the US, but in Texas, American Football is a religion! High-school level Football with thousands of people attending their local games every Friday night - unbelievable!
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I always get asked about the differences between Sports Therapy and Athletic Training, so here they are...
The pace of the degree– my Sports Therapy degree was at a much slower pace than my Athletic Training degree, something which may have been due to the level of study. One major positive of the Sports Therapy degree is that it allows for more time to be spent on skills which enhances long-term learning. With the fast paced nature of the Athletic Training degree, I would struggle to turn short-term knowledge into long-term knowledge, something that I had to work really hard at.
Differing testing procedures– One thing that took me a while to get used to was the testing procedures. In my Athletic Training degree we had assignments and quizzes every week. We even received a grade for attending and participating in lectures!! Whereas, in the Sports Therapy degree we usually had one or two exams and one essay due for each module in each semester.
Athletic training requires to obtain a state license and national certification in order to practice. State licensure involves an in-person practical test and a computer-based theory assessment at a testing centre. National certification also requires a computer-based theory assessment at a testing centre, but there’s no practical exam. State licensure must be renewed every year and national certification is renewed every 2 years. Renewal for each requires that you attend a number of CPD events each year, of which, some must be concussion related EBP.
There is a higher emphasis on networking and building relationships with other professionals in in the Athletic Training. A large percentage of graduates from the Athletic Training program were offered jobs based on the relationships they had built with other healthcare professionals during their time in the program. It would be beneficial if this should was emphasized more in the Sports Therapy degrees.
Sports Therapy has a higher S&C content, which is non-existent in athletic training. Only S&C knowledge is gained in a rehabilitation class and a functional screening class. This is a definite advantage of the Sports Therapy degrees in the UK!
Athletic Training has a very high focus on immediate and emergency care with classes on spine board, equipment removal (i.e. football pads and helmet), intubating an airway, manage fractures, bleeding control – amongst other things.
What is my job role now?
Currently I work at Hawkins High School and Middle School as a teacher and Athletic Trainer. It’s not that common in Texas for Athletic Trainer’s to have a teaching role and be the sports medicine professional. Teaching-wise, I have a high school PE class and middle school health science classes which I teach for a combined 4 hours every day. On top of that I’m responsible for the welfare of all boys and girls teams, between two different site. In total we have 13 sports, ranging from American football to softball to wrestling. Each sport has their own season which lasts approximately 3 months and they’re staggered throughout the school year - so I can never complain that I’m bored! In terms of game days, I usually cover home games only.
'Currently I work... as a teacher and Athletic Trainer'
Having never worked in education before, dealing with the reliability and accountability of high school students is challenging. It makes my job harder when I have coaches wondering why their star player isn’t ready to play on time. However, my biggest challenge has been in the classroom. Not expecting to teach, I didn't seek any teaching qualifications after I graduated, so I was learning on the job. The lesson that I deliver are from pre-made PowerPoint presentations, this, combined with my education means that I can speak from experience, however, I would always strive to offer the students more.
A typical day - if you think University was hard then think again!
6:15-7:30 – Rehab with student-athletes
7:45-12:30 – Teaching
12:30-14:00 – Lunch/Opportunity to catch up on paperwork
14:00 -15:45 – Coverage of middle school and high school PE
15:45-18:00 – After school high school and middle school team training sessions
* Three times per week we have after school games starting at 6pm and finishing anywhere between 8pm-10pm
** Saturday morning we have treatments from 9am-11am
Average work week = 70-80 hours
So, you have made it through my journey from the start to where I am today...
I will leave you with my top tips for a Student Sports Therapist/Athletic Trainer:
Networking- Networking with other healthcare professionals, sports coaches and Lecturers will get you a job and keep you in that job, more often than not in our field of work. Relationships are key! On that note, feel free to follow me on Instagram – jameslloyd94 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perseverance– there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s usually a large time commitment required for little pay at first, or no pay at all. It’ll all be worth it in the end and always keep sight of that.
Volunteer Opportunities- Make the most of your volunteer opportunities. Similar, to networking, this is a great way to get your name out there and build relationships.
Try Something New- Whether that’s a different sport, work setting or a different country. You never know, you may enjoy it more than you imagined!
Family and Friends- Something which people don’t think about is having a strong support system outside of sports medicine. Having a partner and family who understands the time commitments required for the job is key in maintaining healthy home relationships. A surprisingly high number of Athletic Trainers are single here for that reason. And as you can see by my weekly schedule, there isn’t too many opportunities to go out and meet people and maintain friendships. So forcing yourself to go out and taking advantage of social opportunities is important as well.
No doubt these points are nothing new, you just had to hear them from me! Best wishes in your careers!
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