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Training for the pinnacle of sports

Matt Daniel, head athletic trainer for the University of North Georgia, treats a UNG athlete.

Two major sporting event take place in February – Super Bowl XLVIII this weekend and the 2014 Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 6. For the athletes involved, the events mark the pinnacle of their competitive careers, but what does it take to get to that level? Matt Daniel, the University of North Georgia's head athletic trainer, talks about the role certified athletic trainers like himself play in helping athletes maintain top competitive form, especially injury prevention. Daniel also teaches courses in UNG's health, physical education and recreation degree program.

What kind of commitment does it take for athletes to reach the top of their sport?

It's a daily and even a lifetime commitment. Athletes have to start early on knowing that's what they want to do. At the elite level, athletes get up early in the morning spend hours training, practicing, conditioning, and working out. Amateur athletes, like Olympians and UNG's student-athletes, will spend their day attending classes or even working a full- or part-time job. For Olympians in particular, they often will have to put their lives on hold for a period of time to devote themselves solely to training for their event.

Certified athletic trainers work hands-on with taping up athletes and helping them stretch before and after work outs. We also work with athletes in an advisory role – educating them about the best way to do exercises, proper nutrition and hydration, and the amount of rest they need. We also advise coaches on what we can do to help athletes maintain that high level of competition, again through work outs, rest and proper nutrition, and helping in rehabilitation from injury and working with them to prevent injuries.

What is the trainer's role in these types of competitions?

During competition, our role as certified athletic trainers is varied. Trainers arrive hours before the event to set up cups, sports drinks, water, equipment, and other needs. Certified athletic trainers will also spend several hours immediately before an event helping the athletes get ready. We'll help them stretch and warm up and provide any treatments they may need such as those who are recovering from an injury.

During the competition, we're the first line of care, when an athlete suffers an injury like a torn ACL or broken bone. We're that primary level of care right when the injury happens, and we're there to treat it immediately.

Once competition is over, we do post-treatments, such as icing athletes down, providing other treatments, referring an athlete to a doctor, and cleaning up. If it's a multi-day competition like the Olympics or a tournament, we have to get ready for the next day of competition. When UNG hosted a softball regional, we were here at 9 a.m. and didn't leave until 1 or 2 a.m., and then had to do it all over again for several days.


What challenges will athletes face in competing outdoors in cold temperatures?

When athletes have to compete in cold weather, we are concerned about athletes remaining warm, but also maintaining proper hydration and nutrition.

One of the main ways we keep athletes warm is in making sure they are wearing proper clothing – apparel that is appropriate for that sport, but also is breathable and helps athletes don't sweat too much so they maintain their hydration level.

We also have several other ways of maintaining warmth, such as the use of hand-warmers, use of equipment to keep their bodies warm through exercise, heaters in dugouts for baseball and softball. Often we serve a light, but nutritious broth at halftime to warm them up and provide some nutrition.

Part of keeping athletes warm also is the mental aspect, of educating them about performing in the cold – warm muscles perform better and help the athletes compete better. Also, the body produces heat as we are active, so just the competition itself is going to help them warm up.

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