An eagle eye from the sidelines
Athletic training students learn by working with UGA’s top athletes
For years, Kristina Poss found her place on the basketball court or the cross-country course.
But in high school, she realized her true calling wasn’t on the court, but instead was on the sidelines, watching for any injuries or issues among the athletes as an athletic trainer. Today, Poss, originally from Cumming, is a senior athletic training major in the University of Georgia College of Education working with the women’s soccer team for the fall semester.
The degree is demanding; Poss completes up to 25 hours of clinical education each week, often attending team practices for her assigned fall sport and spring sport. And, each student must spend time working with a football team, a requirement for all students in the program. This is all on top of her regular schoolwork.
“Football is equipment intensive; we have to know how to take off equipment before a player goes to the hospital. This is something we’re working on now,” she said. “In the major, there’s just no time. But it’s definitely doable.”
Watching from the sidelines, Poss says she and her fellow athletic training majors learn to balance a complex relationship with the student-athletes. They watch the athletes, their peers, work through practices and push themselves in a game, and feel their frustration when they roll an ankle or pull a hamstring—or worse.
The athletic training students learn to watch athletes’ mannerisms and look for even subtle changes during a practice or game — a limp or a moment of confusion, for example. They also watch clips in class to learn what various injuries look like from the sidelines.
Working under a certified athletic trainer, each athletic training student is assigned to specific sports in order to gain experience in certain types of injuries. For example, soccer tends to focus on the lower extremities, with injuries associated with hips, knees and ankles. Tennis, on the other hand, is a sport with injuries that tend to be in the top half of the body.
Although, Poss said, ankle injuries seem to be universal to all sports. “You’ll see them everywhere,” she said. “With an upper-extremity sport, you’ll see more shoulder/arm injuries. For lower-extremity sports, you’ll see hips and knees. That also gives you an idea of what to watch.”
The College of Education’s nationally recognized athletic training program combines clinical experience, lab work and hands-on classroom learning. Graduates may take a national exam to earn the athletic trainer credential, or may continue to graduate school for more advanced coursework.
Poss has also learned about an invisible line between the athletic trainers and the athletes. As much as they may be friendly—and, Poss says, she has met several athletes who she’s sure would be great friends—the relationship must stay professional.
“In athletic training, it’s hard for us because the athletes are the same age,” she said. “We can’t hang out with them; they have to see us as professionals, not as friends. But that’s something you learn — and it’s hard — but it’s something you have to buckle down. It’s taught me so many things about life. You have to be selfless.”
That’s one thing that’s struck Poss as she progresses through the program. She originally discovered athletic training because of her love of sport. But now, she’s in it for the people.
“I thought I knew what sports I wanted to do, but it’s about the people you work with — it’s the relationship you form with them, working with them to come back from an injury,” she said, recalling that feeling of joy when she’s able to see a student she’s been helping to recover return to the field. “All of them exceeded my expectations. It’s really about the athletes.”
And despite the long hours, the homework done before games on the road and the scrutiny from the sidelines, Poss admits she’s found her calling. Her next step is applying to graduate school to get her master’s, and she is looking to stay among Division I SEC schools.
“It’s a lot of work — it’s one of the hardest things you can do. But I absolutely love it,” she said. “That’s when you know you love what you do — when you’re happy to come to work and sad to leave.”
—Kristen Morales, College of Education