The New Normal How COVID-19 is impacting life on and off campus for NCAA members

I’ll admit, when the news first broke about COVID-19 causing school closures, I didn’t think it was real.

When it finally sank in that students would be going home, I thought I’d see them in a couple of weeks once things were “under control.” As each day passed, reality hit that I may not get to see my student-athletes again for an undetermined amount of time.

College athletic trainers are blessed with the opportunity to spend pretty much every day with our student-athletes. It is part of what makes us successful in our job, always being there to watch, advise and care.

This new normal has redefined the definition of “care” for many health care providers.

The most challenging part of delivering health care via telemedicine is the inability to use my hands. My progress report measurements have been reduced to subjective measurements, meaning I need to ask my student-athletes how they feel, if they have pain or if they feel a perceived increase in function, as opposed to strength testing them myself.

Staying connected with my student-athletes and co-workers has been relatively smooth. We are all blessed with modern technology providing more ways to stay connected. I generally have anywhere from two to four telehealth calls per day, ranging from 40 minutes to over an hour.

When this all happened, I had a few student-athletes coming off recent surgeries who had to return home. My top priority is not letting their recovery fall behind. I also send individualized programs to any of my students who request them, whether for an injury or just general injury prevention for their sport.

Our sports performance staff also has done a wonderful job of engaging the student-athletes with workouts they can do from home.

In a combined effort with sports medicine, sports performance and sports nutrition, we have been offering weekly Zoom meetings. These voluntary workouts allow the student-athletes to get some face time with our staff and other student-athletes. Some classes are sport-specific, but others are designed for general body injury prevention, agility, cooking demonstrations and more.

I think the most important time in the sessions I have led has been the “stretch and chat.” After any instruction is over, I ask the student-athletes to unmute themselves and tell me about their classes, quarantine life or really anything they want to talk about. That mental connection is so crucial during this time. I don’t mean just for them but also for me as I adjust to this new normal of not seeing my “kids” every day.

I also try to serve my students by providing them with any resources to help them through this time.

Our counseling center has created a weekly meditation for the campus community, and our school’s Active Minds group has been a great advocate in reaching out via social media and creating events specifically designed for student-athletes. Duquesne is also a JED Foundation school, and I encourage any school or student to follow them on social media or visit their website for resources.

I know the students are getting a lot thrown at them all at once. I try to keep my information short and to the point. Some days, I just send a random GIF of a bear waving hi to spark a smile or small conversation. The important thing for me is letting people know I am still here for them.

This time has left us with a unique opportunity to get to know the student-athletes in a new way. During my telemedicine calls, I talk with parents, meet brothers and sisters (even witness a few sibling arguments), get picked up and taken for a walk by the family dog, visit students’ homes and find out what’s for dinner.

This past Good Friday, I set up a Zoom “prehab” session with my rowers. I happened to be at my grandmother’s house so she could watch Mass from my iPad. Not only did my grandma enjoy my post-Mass instruction with the team, the team asked to meet her. I was happy to oblige.

We are learning so much more about one another. We would be wise to take this time and use these newly developed relationships to our advantage. My volleyball staff is a great example of this. During our weekly meeting with the team, we are participating in mental training. I am in awe of the honesty and sharing that happens during this short amount of time. My love and respect for them are constantly growing, which only makes me want to work harder for them.

Lastly, I just want to give a shoutout to staffs of all the sports medicine/athletic training departments around the country. Like many have said, there is no rulebook (but perhaps now there will be), and we are all taking notes from each other on how to make health care work right now. I’d encourage every department to follow each other on social media or start a discussion group within your conference, so we can help each other find ways to reach our student athletes.

From what I’ve seen from our AT community, there is no shortage of health care happening even if we’re all “sidelined” from in-person contact.

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