Game day is the culmination of the teams’ week of preparation. The heightened sense of focus and attention to detail felt by everyone. This day is unlike any other. From the moment they arrive at the stadium, ATCs are in high demand. Game day responsibilities begin with preparing supplies and equipment for use on the field and sideline. Players then need to be taped and braced and receive pre-game treatment as needed. Communication with the visiting athletic training staff is also necessary, and coordination with the stadium EMT personnel is a crucial precaution before each game.
Attending to players’ needs and injuries before, during, and after the game is a priority of each team’s medical staff. Besides ATCs, orthopedic, and general medical physicians working together on the sideline, a team’s game day medical staff may include their chiropractor, dentist, and ophthalmologist as well.
ATCs use radio systems to communicate with each other on busy, crowded sidelines, especially during extreme crowd noise. They also communicate with their coaches on the status of injured players throughout the game.
Post-game player injuries are assessed in conjunction with team doctors. Post-game treatments are administered, and any diagnostic testing needs for the upcoming day are addressed and prepped. When the team is on the road, the training room supplies and equipment are repacked into trunks, loaded on the team truck and routed to the airport for the journey back home. The preparation for the next game day begins immediately.
There are many tasks required of ATC’s in order to prepare their team for a practice. These include treating ongoing injuries, athletic taping and bracing, and practice field set-up. Players with ongoing injuries are treated each day in the mornings before practice and again at the end of the day. Their practice status (No Practice, Limited, or Full) is determined and a daily Injury Report is created. This is discussed with the team’s coaches and management so as to know what to expect from each injured player.
Besides preventatively taping commonly sprained joints such as ankles, wrists, and thumbs, ATCs tape and brace players’ injured knees and shoulders to prepare them for a football practice.
The practice fields are prepped with hydration supplies as well as emergency medical equipment, including an AED and spine board. During practice, ATCs are on hand to both monitor player hydration and provide first aid and emergency care to injured players.
Training camps typically operate from late July through August leading up to the start of the NFL season with many practices being open to the general public. Some teams choose to hold their training camp at their permanent home training facilities and headquarters. Other teams may use a college or university to hold their training camp. This requires their athletic training staffs to pack up and move their medical supplies and equipment, as well as organize medical and emergency care at those off-site locales.
The extreme summer temperatures and humidity NFL players are exposed to during training camp, can affect their performance and, more seriously, put them at risk of heat-related illness. ATCs check players’ weights both before and after each practice to monitor how much weight they’ve lost over a practice session. Monitoring and counseling players on their hydration and the use of Gatorade as a proper fluid replacement during training camp is a priority of every NFL athletic training staff.
Training camp is such a busy and important time for NFL teams that they hire athletic training interns to assist with daily responsibilities, such as player hydration, practice coverage, and treatment of player injuries. These are valuable opportunities for young students to learn about athletic training in a professional sports setting.
Training camp also brings the challenge of being away from home for several weeks. There is very little time off while away, but every ATC knows the long training camp days are necessary for a team’s growth and preparation for the upcoming season.
The National Invitational Combine in Indianapolis consists of over 300 athletes on average who participate each year in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft. ATCs have played a major role at the Combine over the years, but through continual enhancement of medical and computer technology, ATCs accomplish even more on site than ever before. ATCs are part of a team's larger medical staff present to help administer medical physicals. In addition to the athletic training staff members in attendance, there is also typically the director of the orthopedic staff, additional team orthopedists, and an internal medicine physician.
Information learned during examinations is recorded in a file and kept on every player who attends the Combine. These documents include physicians' dictations from orthopedic physicals, data from medical physicals, copies of diagnostic work ups, X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. Each club’s medical staff takes all accumulated information and presents a medical risk analysis for management and scouting personnel to use as a component in deciding which players to draft. During the NFL Draft, ATCs and team physicians are involved in the consulting process concerning a player’s medical history before they are selected. Additionally, each club usually has a list of non-combine athletes who are eligible for the upcoming draft. The ATCs perform in-depth research from collegiate ATCs and medical databases to obtain as much medical history as possible on their club’s targeted non-combine players.
The off-season begins the moment following a team's last game and goes until training camp starts the following July. Medical intervention such as surgery, arthroscopy, rehab programs, or even a significant period of rest, begins immediately after the season ends and are monitored by ATC staff. The relative volume, compared to the regular season, is less because there are fewer players, but there are a variety of things to coordinate for those who remain in town.
After preparing for and attending the Combine in February, ATCs utilize this time to attend continuing education seminars and research new programs to implement next season before welcoming players back in mid-April for off-season conditioning. Preparing for the rookie draft is then followed by preparations for mini-camps and preseason workouts in May and June. July means the beginning of training camp and then the season starts all over again.
A less time-intensive schedule during the off-season brings the opportunity for vacations with family, or catching up on personal hobbies and recreation. Even though there is still plenty to do, the off-season is a welcome chance to break from the long hours of the regular season.