Student athletes face a challenging set of pressures. Like any young people, they must navigate their own aspirations, work with their family's needs, and juggle academics. But students that are also athletes face the additional pressures to maintain scholarships, perform on the field, adhere to team requirements, and keep up demanding practices and training schedules. In fact, a 2011 NCAA survey showed that football and men’s basketball players identify themselves more strongly as athletes than as students. For that reason -- we discuss the ways in which an athlete's pressures almost match that of a job -- the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University’s football team was eligible to unionize.
The pressures that student athletes face, however, don't necessarily imply that the team is in any way exploitative -- or under any less pressure than the athlete herself. Teams face a myriad of pressures as well, and often with insufficient resources to meet them. Despite widespread beliefs that sports teams are money-making machines, only 10% of Division I college sports programs turn a profit. Teams -- and the coaches, athletic trainers, and other staff that make them up -- are under pressure from the university, their own budgets, professors, parents, and the athletes themselves. It's a delicate balance with high stakes. An injured player can present a set of difficult decisions and each stakeholder may have a different opinion on the right course forward.
One example of the recognition of these pressures is Natasha's Law, which requires high school coaches and trainers to make sure that a player with a concussion doesn't experience any further symptoms for a full 30 minutes before putting back her into play. Some coaches, trainers, or players may object to this kind of regulation, arguing that they can make better decisions than the law can. But sometimes this kind of regulation actually makes athletic trainers' lives easier by mitigating demands.
As the New York Times recently wrote:
"Strong athletic departments do two things well. They afford young athletes the chance to reach their full potential, and they prepare them for life when the cheering stops."
Athletic trainers walk this line every day. First of all, there can sometimes be a contradiction between supporting a young athlete in reaching his full potential today and preparing him for life after sports. Second, the athletic trainer and department must consider the needs of not just "this" athlete -- but of all the athletes on the team, present and future.
What pressures do you face as medical providers treating athletes? Have you noticed them increasing over time? We look forward to hearing, in the comments below.
And get our guide on how telemedicine can help deal with the pressures you face as an athletic trainer:
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