Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
Like most other departments and organizations, sports medicine has faced numerous challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With competitive play resuming this semester, athletic trainers have found themselves responsible for testing student-athletes multiple times a week in addition to their regular duties, which were already increased by having all 21 varsity sports playing at the same time.
Ginger Swann, assistant athletic director for sports medicine, said one of the biggest priorities the department has at the moment is maintaining its standards despite the additional workload.
“We’re just trying to maintain the same level of service to our student-athletes, making sure teams are feeling like they’re getting the support that they have in the past,” Swann said. “We don’t want COVID to be the excuse that they’re not getting supported because they already have enough impact as it is. And we fall short sometimes, but I think we’re doing okay, always looking for ways to do better.”
Head athletic trainer Brandon Williamson said COVID-19 changed everything in their day-to-day, as the department had to rethink how it operated in order to be COVID-19 compliant. A few major changes, according to Williamson, include the occupancy limitations for the athletic training rooms, which have resulted in stricter appointment scheduling, and the need for all athletes to have their own water bottles at practices. This is without even going into the testing component of his job, where he estimates they have conducted nearly 12,000 tests since players returned from winter break.
“We’re doing a lot of things,” Williamson said. “We want them to play and we want to keep Berry safe and healthy, and of course keep student-athletes safe and healthy, so we’re trying to do as much as we can to let them have that opportunity, but it’s impacted us a lot.”
Swann said scheduling the regular testing has been a challenge, as it involves a lot of coordination between multiple parties.
“We put a lot on just our athletic trainers to work with our coaches to be able to figure out what the best times are, because there’s a few hoops that we have to jump through, like making sure they’re testing at the appropriate time before they travel and things like that,” Swann said. “So it’s mainly the coaches working with the athletic trainers to do the scheduling, and then, once it’s scheduled with the athletic trainers, we have some students who have been trained in it as well who help with the actual testing process.”
Williamson said he was very thankful for those student workers, as they have been instrumental in lessening the burden on his colleagues and himself.
“Our student work program has been super helpful,” Williamson said. “They’ll come and help us get lines organized, get tables organized, and every test we do we have to log it into VikingWeb, so they can help us with that side of things and handing out the nose swabs and different things to try to make it as efficient as we can. Honestly, I think most of our athletic trainers have done a great job with making it efficient, where student-athletes are not waiting around.”
Swann said another important role for the sports medicine department since the pandemic begun has been helping student-athletes with their mental health. Swann said that because their personal identities are often strongly linked with their role as a student-athletes, many players found it difficult to adapt once their seasons were cancelled or postponed. Dealing with this side of things was not new to the department, however, as it is an important aspect of what they do regardless of circumstances.
“Most people’s perception is that we help with their physical health, but, honestly, a big part of sports medicine is the mental aspect of it, the emotional aspect of it, even the spiritual aspect of it here at Berry,” Swann said. “When you do something like tear an ACL all of a sudden, you were playing, part of your identity is kind of being with the team, and you lose that. It’s quite a loss that they have to deal with and so they have to readjust because they don’t have their community the same, they’re not doing things that have same expectations, they have to change their minds. So there’s a lot of things that you have to work through, and mental health is absolutely a big part of it.”
Swann said the pandemic and its effect on mental health has also reinforced the importance of teamwork for her.
“When it comes down to where it’s so critical, like it has been, where it impacted every single student-athlete, every single coach like this, you really see the importance of why it’s critical that we’re connecting with each other and helping each other and supporting each other and looking out for each other,” Swann said. “Because your brother and sister are right beside you and you’re the ones who are helping taking care of them, so I think that’s been a big thing for me, just that mindset of deepening the understanding of what it means to be a teammate.”
Another impact, according to Williamson, has been the stretching out of work days. Because there is no longer any overlap in facility usage to allow for cleaning in between sessions, teams that previously shared fields, such as men’s and women’s soccer, can no longer train at the same time. As a result, different teams’ practices are more spread out across the day, with some starting as early as 6 a.m., while others start as late as 8 p.m.
Despite this, Williamson said the workload is not as bad as first feared, as there are also some aspects of COVID-19 policies that help his team cope.
“It actually hasn’t been as bad as we thought it was going to be, and a big part of that is a lot of the events have gotten pushed to the weekends,” Williamson said. “We’re used to playing a lot of Tuesday and Wednesday events and then also playing weekend stuff, but some of the NCAA recommendations has been having seven days between competitions and whatnot so it’s really packed out weekends pretty full, but there’s not a lot of events in the middle of the week. So I would say throughout the week it’s been pretty manageable and on the weekend it’s kind of been all hands on deck.”
Williamson also said the department learned valuable lessons from this experience.
“Like so many people, I think we can do much more than we think we can do,” Williamson said. “I think everybody probably was like ‘there’s no way we can do this, that or the other,’ and I think how resilient we are, we’ve learned to really use our resources, what we have, the staff that we have, the facilities that we have, the equipment that we have, supplies… I think we’ve figured out we can be much more resourceful with that. I think we figured out we can use much more technology, using obviously Zoom for meetings and whatnot, so I think that’s something that we’ll probably take out of this as well. And, of course, we learned a lot about testing. I hope we don’t have to use that anymore going forward, but who knows? So I think we took some good things from the pandemic, which is good.”