Life as a Dallas Cowboys Athletic Training Intern: A Snapshot of Manadatory Mini-Camp
When I first was exposed to athletic training as a freshman in high school I immediately thought of one day working in the National Football league. My undergraduate education at Texas Christian University helped prepare me to take a step towards achieving that goal. As a two year member of the Dallas Cowboys athletic training staff, I have been afforded the opportunity to reach that goal and more importantly to work alongside a very tight knit group. Head Athletic Trainer Jim Maurer and assistants Britt Brown, Greg Gaither and Hanson Yang have all allowed me to further my knowledge and integrate into the daily routine. Their collective guidance provides for an excellent atmosphere in the work place.
With the ever-changing NFL calendar it was hard to pick just one event to share a little bit about. The non-season for us now began with strength and conditioning and progressed slowly on to the field for teachingsessions and then into what is known as an Organized Team Activity or more commonly known as an OTA. Following three weeks of OTAs, the non-season program ends with the mandatory mini-camp. The mini-camp provides an opportunity for our staff to welcome our summer interns and introduce them to what the rest of their summer is going to be like. Though still a demanding work load for the entire staff, this is a good introduction to the even more demanding schedule of training camp.
Day 1: Player Physicals. Our summer interns report from their respective homes at 7:30 am. Physicals will begin at 9:00 and there is much to be done. Because rookies already went through this process, the only players that go through this are the veterans. That still equates to roughly 70 individuals going through 7 different stations. Assistant Athletic Trainer Greg Gaither and myself have done all of the preparations required for today’s logistical puzzle. A file folder has been prepared for each player, an order form for blood and urine tests, and a specimen cup for a urine sample have all been prepared prior to today. Once our interns arrive on site we quickly get to work on setting up the rooms that will be used for physical exams. Two rooms are used for orthopedic exams, two for internal medicine exams, one room for eye exams, an area in the athletic training room for dental exams, a treatment table used for EKG tests, six rooms used for baseline concussion testing, and our racquetball courts used to take player head shots. By 8:15 players are starting to arrive in an effort to be at the front of the line when the process all begins. The process starts at 9:00 sharp and the majority of players are finished right at about noon. We all have our specific tasks to do during the exams. Jim and Britt are present for all the orthopedic exams, Hanson assists the EKG technician, I helped coordinate players making it into one of six rooms where our baseline concussion tests were happening, and Greg handled the most important task: checking players out and assuring that every signature was in the right place. Once the day is complete we then filed every form into the appropriate permanent file for each player. As all this was happening the summer students began the important job of preparing for three hot days of practice. By day’s end we have completed physicals, filed paper work, and have everything we need to get through a practice.
Days 2-4: Mini Camp Practices. We all arrive by 6:00 am to begin our day. Plenty of ice bags are made to be used throughout the day for treatments. The summer students get all the water coolers and Gatorade break carts used during practice filled up and ready to go. By 6:30 players are reporting for treatment. We use this time to treat players and get some taping done. Once players begin meetings we won’t see them again until roughly 30 minutes before on field work starts. This means that this early time is our chance to knock out the bulk of our pre-practice regimen. While players are in meetings the summer students get the field set-up and ready for practice. The rest of us catch up on paper work and documentation. When there is more down time I will often spend that time going over tips and pointers and sharing whatever knowledge I can with the summer students. When meetings end it is a mad rush to get everyone taped and ready for practice. We have roughly a half hour and it definitely gets busy. Before too long we are on the field for practice.
Our coverage of a practice during the season usually puts two of us on offense and two of us on defense with one person doing functional rehab with any injured guys. With the addition of summer interns, our coverage doubles. This is especially helpful with the expanded summer roster. Practices run a bit smoother with these extra hands. Coming off the field we prepare a number of cold plunges and conduct a round of post-practice treatments. Taping stations are restocked and all of the field equipment is brought back in. We have much more time after practice to treat players before afternoon meetings begin. Once those begin our staff grabs lunch and this is usually a time for us to be off of our feet and to unwind from the whirlwind of activity that begins with players getting out of morning meetings. After lunch everything that we will use the following day is prepared. This means restocking refrigerators, ice chests, taping supplies, and any other training room supply.
When afternoon meetings release we will usually see a handful of guys for some additional treatment. As we conclude these we are able to return to our offices and handle additional injury and treatment/rehab documentation. Britt often uses this time to plan the next day’s rehab as well. Once players are gone we often will sit together as a staff and chat informally about the day. I then will take the summer students and meet with them and go over the day’s happenings and go over what to expect for the next day. By this time it’s nearly 5:30 and before you know it we will be back in for morning treatments.
My position with the team is one that provides me with an excellent opportunity to grow as an athletic trainer and learn from some of the best mentors around. I find that the workload is often demanding and challenging but also quite rewarding. I often find myself on a mission to discuss my experiences with current undergraduate students in an effort to dispel some of the stereotypes and notions of what life in the NFL is like. As the title indicates, this article provides merely a snap shot of a 4 day experience at the end of our non-season. Not every day is a 6 am – 6 pm day, especially during the non-season. In fact, now that this mini-camp is done, a more traditional work schedule will resume until the beginning of training camp. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to truly understand your role within the staff you work on. Other tidbits that will make any work experience more rewarding is to always work hard and most importantly: pay attention to detail. By following some of these tips, you may one day find yourself writing an article for the PFATS website!