I have heard it said that the two best things about being a SSAT is June and July! If you are like me, that statement brings a smile and a knowing nod. The problem with June and July is that nervous knowledge that August follows these great months. The month of August is like no other month in the SSAT calendar year. Collecting physicals, freshmen, fitting equipment, new athletes, new coaches… freshmen, preparing for the brutal summer pre-season practice schedule…freshman, etc. are individually stressful that collectively take a toll on the SSAT. Did I mention freshman? Many of my Facebook AT friends are posting status updates about these stresses with 70-90 hour work weeks, huge piles of physicals to catalog, freshmen, frustrating injuries to out of shape freshmen athletes, etc.
I constantly read news articles in sports magazines, health magazines, websites, newspapers, etc. focused on the athlete surviving the grueling two-a-day practice regimen. I have never read an article for the athletic trainer surviving pre-season.
This current pre-season is my twelfth time through a pre-season at this high school. Yes, this is my twelfth class of freshmen, and I still don’t understand how they make it. I have seven more years of experiences as an SSAT during grad school and my early professional career making this year my nineteenth year at the high school level. I also coached football and played high school and college football adding another 10 years of experiences on the flip side from an AT. (Before you think I am old, I am only 45!) It is safe to say I have learned a lot during those collective 29 years of experience with high school sports and freshmen.
The first 2 weeks of high school sports can be a mad house. My assistant and I care for over 400 individual athletes (7-12th) participating in 8 different sports on 20 distinct teams (7th, 8th, 9th, JV, Varsity). These teams have their own schedules throughout the day set up by their coaches. My office also gathers all the physicals and determines eligibility to play. Processing all those physical forms forces us to be organized. Keeping the schedules straight and providing appropriate medical supervision takes organization. A few hours of work organizing schedules and establishing a system to process the physicals in the weeks before the pre-season starts, decreases the stress.
Right along with the organization is the need for communication. Set up a good communication system to effectively keep the coaches, AD and the AT staff on the same page. It is very important to know who to talk to, when to talk to them, how to talk to them and vice versa. Know who all your coaches are. Know how to contact them (email, cell phone, home phone, etc.). As you get to know each other, learn what they want to know and when they want to know it. Let them know what you want to know and when you need to know it.
In my situation, I send a daily email in the 10 days before the season starts to update the coaches on physical eligibility of the athletes. The coaches take the responsibility to communicating with the athletes who don't have paperwork in to my office. They also communicate with me what their schedules will be. A good communication system decreases the stress of the pre-season.
As an AT, we must practice what we preach. I know I am always talking to athletes about eating right. We know that “you are what you eat.” If you eat poorly, you will feel poorly. The preseason schedule of a 60-90 hour work week forces you to plan ahead. Take time the week before to plan ahead. Write out an eating plan for the week, make a healthy list, go to the grocery store and buy what is on the list. Don't forget healthy snacks. If you eat right, you will feel better.
Again, we must practice what we preach. I feel part of my role as a SSAT is to model a healthy lifestyle. My exercise modes of choice are Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, bodyweight exercise, swimming and bicycling. My 70+ hour work week prevents me from spending as much time on fitness as I did over the summer, but I also don't want to avoid all exercise. I work my fitness into my day. I ride my bike to work. I workout with the kettlebells for a few minutes here and there when I get some down time. I do bodyweight work (pushups, squats, lunges) throughout the day also. There seems to be a growing body of evidence that small workout sessions (i.e. - 10 minutes) several times a day has the same health benefits as 1 long session. Get up and move. Movement is always good. Take time to move. Your body and mind will thank you and your stress levels will decrease.
This may be the hardest part of the pre-season, getting adequate and quality sleep. It is physically difficult to go from working a few hours a week to a stressful 60-90 hour work week. The SSAT will be physically exhausted but because your body is in stress mode, it won't shut down. Mentally, the pre-season is exhausting and also further exacerbating sleep quality. I often dream about work during the pre-season ensuring that I feel stress even while I sleep. There are several things you can do to improve your sleep. Obviously, nutrition and exercise can contribute. Avoid caffeine late in the day. Avoid “screen time” 30 minutes before bed. Turn off the TV, iPod, computer, radio, etc. Let your mind relax. Take 30 minutes to relax and read a book right before bed. These are simple guidelines that I have learned through the years that aid in sleep.
I hope these ideas get you thinking about minimizing stress and surviving the start of the athletic season with your health.
What are your experiences? What ways you been successful in minimizing stress? What stresses you about the preseason? Leave comments for discussion.
Written by: Paul LaDuke, MSS, ATC, CSCS