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Being an athletic trainer means living the game, through its highs, lows and everything in between.
"Some of the best feelings I've ever had in my job come from seeing an athlete get back out there doing what they love after an injury," says Jennifer R. Scallin Perez, MS, LAT, ATC, sports medicine manager at Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, athletic trainers share players' grueling schedules and stiff competition.
"They're asked to function at a high level all the time with very little downtime to de-stress," Scallin Perez says of athletes.
As a sports fan, you see athletic trainers run onto the field or court when an athlete is injured. But they take on complex roles behind the scenes.
They work hand-in-hand with a team that helps athletes stay physically fit and healthy. To do this, they build compassionate relationships with coaches, athletes and, for younger players, parents.
Most Florida Hospital athletic trainers work closely with a high school, university or professional team. We are the official hospital for the Orlando Magic, the Orlando Solar Bears, The University of Central Florida Knights, RunDisney and Florida Citrus Sports.
Prevention: An individualized approach
An athletic trainer is at his or her best while helping an athlete prevent injury. Nutrition, strength and flexibility are elements of health for all athletes, though fitting these pieces together in an individual demands a tailored approach.
"It's about knowing each person's strengths and weaknesses to create an individualized program," Scallin Perez says. An athletic trainer wants to ensure an athlete's body can handle the demands of their sport.
"It's hydration, it's your meal planning and making sure you're sleeping," she says.
Strength is important, of course, but only insofar as it relates to a task the athlete performs in-game.
"It's one thing to be strong enough to bench 400 pounds," Scallin Perez says. "That's great - if it's part of the activity they're being asked to perform."
Though most athletes supply their own motivation, athletic trainers are often called upon to help them manage stress, especially after an injury.
"Athletes are used to being in control, so they have to learn to let others guide them through an injury and this can be taxing," Scallin Perez says. Athletic trainers build relationships with athletes to guide them through the rehabilitation process with honesty.
"We let them know it's not going to be a cakewalk," Scallin Perez says. "We really develop that bond."
Though fans see sports as a form of recreation, the view from the inside is more like a business, where any advantage can be exploited for a competitive edge.
"Athletes today are bigger, stronger and faster than they've ever been," Scallin Perez says. Injuries have kept pace, as younger athletes are experiencing repetitive stress injuries typically seen in adults.
"Kids are specializing at a young age, which is not beneficial in preventing injury. Baseball players, for example, are pitching for 12 months a year, and you're seeing Tommy John surgeries so young," she says, referring to a surgical procedure in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced.
A 2015 study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found Tommy John surgery was increasing among 15- to 19-year-olds at a rate of nine percent a year.
These new realities have made the athletic trainer's role even more crucial. Feeling the brunt of these changes are the athletes themselves, and Scallin Perez sees her job as putting them in the best position to succeed.
That also means helping them recover from injury.
"There is a rehab protocol based on the injury, but that's only part of the story," she says. As rehabilitation slowly proceeds on the injured area, conditioning continues elsewhere in the body.
"You don't want to keep the athlete completely out of activity," Scallin Perez says. "Keeping the athlete active and fit reduces their time loss," or the time an athlete has to spend getting back into peak performance.
Making room for people
Part of an athletic trainer's role is to advocate for an athlete in an era of increasing demands, and push back when necessary for the sake of their health.
"The taxing of these athletes, youth or otherwise, is becoming incrementally higher," Scallin Perez says, "so we're seeing more and more injuries."
In some cases, athletes simply need a break from the strenuous demands placed on specific parts of the body.
Again, athletic trainers tap the strong relationships they've formed, including with coaches.
"The coach will want that athlete back, but sometimes they need to know they're not ready," says Scallin Perez. In turn, coaches have to be able to trust the athletic trainer will push the athlete.
The relationships among athletic trainers, athletes and coaches is so vital that colleges often use their athletic trainers in their recruitment efforts.
Part of a team
Though athletic trainers are knowledgeable about nutrition, mental health and exercise physiology, they know when to call in the specialists.
"You're trying to work collaboratively for the betterment of that athlete," Scallin Perez says.
Athletic trainers at Florida Hospital are connected with our seamless network of care. Our comprehensive approach includes some or all of the following services:
- Speech pathologists
- Physical therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Orthopedic surgeons
- Sports medicine physicians
- Concussion specialists
- X-ray and imaging technicians
- Medical psychologists
- Exercise physiologists
- Massage therapists
Florida Hospital offers sports medicine services at 18 Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation locations throughout Central Florida. Our team can help keep you in the game and, if you're hurt, get you back to doing what you love.
To make an appointment, call (407) 303-8080 or schedule online.