Being an athletic trainer can be a joyful and rewarding profession. However, if we’re being honest, it can also be an intense and time-consuming one, too. Now, imagine adding to that schedule the stress of educating and training teenagers. That is the reality of our next interview subject.
Today, we’re talking with Amanda Randall who is the Head Athletic Trainer and Sports Medicine and Nutrition Educator at Walpole High School in Walpole, MA. She will share some of her experiences with you to help you be better equipped to serve all of the adolescent athletes you may encounter.
You’ll discover how to motivate students to be proactive in injury prevention and rehab, how to handle heat-related illness, and how to educate students about positive and healthy body image.
This knowledge, paired with the Exercise.com fitness business management software platform, will equip you to grow your fitness business. If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Amanda Randall, Athletic Trainer & Educator
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with Exercise.com. Today, we are continuing our interview series with fitness experts by speaking with Amanda Randall, who is the Head Athletic Trainer and Sports Medicine Educator at Walpole High School in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Amanda Randall: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Yes. Thank you for joining us. Well, let’s jump right in Amanda. I want our audience to get to know a little bit about you. How did you become passionate about sports medicine and training?
Amanda Randall: Sure. Well, I’m sure that my story in becoming interested in sports medicine is similar to a lot of other people’s in the field, but I was a three-sport athlete in high school and I had my fair share of injuries myself. One of which was a knee condition that kept me out of sports for almost two full years.
So, that took a big hit on A. My number one priority in life was playing sports and B. As a young person, my whole identity was tied to athletics. So, finding a way to navigate that and working with physical therapists and doing rehab, that really kind of sparked my interest in the field.
Schimri Yoyo: Cool. That’s awesome. And you said you played three sports. What were those three sports you played growing up?
Amanda Randall: Yes. I played volleyball, basketball, and softball.
Schimri Yoyo: Which was your favorite?
Amanda Randall: Basketball was my favorite, but I was the best at softball, for sure.
Schimri Yoyo: Right. And what is your favorite or a good pre-workout meal for you and a good post-workout meal?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, that’s a great question. A lot of people don’t know that athletic trainers—we have a pretty heavy background in nutrition. And with my education, actually, I took so many nutrition classes that it got to the point that I was like, “If I take three more, I can minor in nutrition.” So I ended up having that in my background as well.
And I always advise my athletes that what you eat, in not just the hours leading up to competition, but just on a consistent basis, so the days leading up to competition, the weeks, is really going to have an impact on your performance. It’s especially challenging with younger people, but I try to get them to have their meal a couple of hours before a game.
So two-to-three hours, the three-hour mark is probably about perfect, gives it time to digest. A nice balanced meal, you got the carbs, you have fruits or veggies in there and a protein. And then if you’re finding yourself hungry leading up to the competition, then you’d want a high carbohydrate snack, maybe an hour or half-hour prior to going out to the field.[Editor’s note: Kacie Vavrek of Ohio State University discusses how proper nutrition prior to a competition can affect sports performance in the video below.]
Schimri Yoyo: Now, which sports season do you prefer? The fall, winter, or spring?
Amanda Randall: Well, at the high school level that I work at, every season is extremely busy because most high schools only just have one athletic trainer. So, I would say favorite would be—I mean—the fall is great because you have football, you have Friday night lights. That’s awesome.
But the fall is also so busy. I think that I would actually probably have to say spring’s my favorite because I’m a huge baseball fan and it’s also that the weather’s getting nice. Things are winding down. So, I think it’s probably the most enjoyable. Winter, as I had said before, I love basketball, but the days are so long. You’re there until like 10:00, 11:00 at night sometimes. So it’s a long day, even though it’s fun, but…
Schimri Yoyo: A lot less sunlight, too.
Amanda Randall: A lot less sunlight, colder weather, exactly. Dark when you come in, dark when you leave. But I can find pros and cons with every season though, for sure.
Schimri Yoyo: Right. Those New England winters can get a bit harsh, I know.
Amanda Randall: Yes.
The Role and Responsibility of a Head Athletic Trainer
Schimri Yoyo: Now, in your opinion, why are athletic trainers so vital to the high school sports teams?
Amanda Randall: There’s a lot of research and education that we’re putting out there as athletic trainers, but you’ll actually have lower rates of catastrophic injuries when you have an athletic trainer on the field for your practices and games. We’re able to recognize when things are getting to a certain dangerous point and stopping it before it gets there hopefully.
When you’re talking about head injuries, or even if you’re just talking about orthopedic musculoskeletal injuries, we’re able to intervene before it gets to a point where—for example, for me, going to a small school with less than 200 students, I didn’t have an athletic trainer who recognized what my injury was and stopped me before it got to the point that I missed two full years of sports. So that’s a huge motivating factor for me in advocating for athletic trainers at the younger levels.
Schimri Yoyo: That actually leads me to my next question.
Amanda Randall: Oh, great.
Schimri Yoyo: Can you describe the relationship between injury prevention, recovery, and then rehabilitation when it comes to sports medicine?
Amanda Randall: Yes. So, first, you have to look at if I’m working with a particular sport or a particular season. Let’s take soccer, for example. So, with our soccer programs at the school, I go over with the coaches some warm-up activities that they should implement: [I model for them] a nice dynamic warmup to help prevent the muscular injuries.
And then they also incorporate some ACL prevention exercises. So they try to incorporate that into their pre-practice and pre-game ritual. So I’m there to monitor and oversee that as needed. And then, if we’re doing those steps, hopefully, we’re seeing lower incidences of those ACL tears and those muscle pulls and stuff like that.
Then, that makes the season go more smoothly for the coaches, and for me, honestly, because we see such a high volume of athletes in our office after school every day. And then that keeps the team fresh and performing the best that they can possibly be.
So, it helps all around between prevention, keeping them out there, and then rehabbing. Obviously, injuries are going to happen anyway, but I’m here to help them through that rehab process. And if it’s something that’s not responding quickly to the treatment I have for them, that’s when I would refer them out to a physical therapist or the orthopedic doctor. So, we’re all working together to keep them out there.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice. Now, as an educator, how are you preparing students in your class who have expressed that they might want a future career in the sports and health industry?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, so the very first unit of my class, I talk about the different career options in sports medicine. So, I try to get off my soapbox, even though I love what I do. I try to really give them the broad spectrum of all the different pieces that go into sports medicine, so if they’re interested in the field and not sure which career specifically, hopefully, the class gives them kind of some more clear answers as to what each profession does and how they contribute to the athlete.
And then I also have guest speakers come into my class. So, I try to get physical therapists to come in. I’ve had a strength conditioning coach come in and also our team doctor, Dr. Luke Oh, he’s over at Brigham and Women’s in MGH and Foxborough. He’s actually the Patriots team doctor and works with several professional teams in the area as well. So, he came in and talked to our class, which was great.
And he brought his Super Bowl rings and the Red Sox World Series rings in with him when he came to chat with the class, so that was pretty great. Just trying to keep the students interested and invested with those types of guest speakers has been really helpful, too.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice, and I’m sure it increased participation and engagement as well.
Amanda Randall: Absolutely, yes.
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Schimri Yoyo: Now, can you describe what a typical day looks like for you as both a teacher, an athletic trainer, and I mean that pre-pandemic and coronavirus, what was your day-to-day like?
Amanda Randall: Yeah. It obviously looked much different when we were in school, for sure. So, typically I go in to teach my one Sports Medicine class and we have a rotating class schedule, which makes my days different every day. But for somebody who likes variety, it actually works well for me to kind of have my day constantly be mixed up a little bit. But I go in, depending on when my class is, and teach that class.
And then from there, if I have extra time before the school bell rings, I’ll use that time to document, check-in with the athletic director and the school nurse, reach out to parents if there are new injuries that have occurred or just to follow up with them, and reach out to the team doctor or athletes’ physical therapists to update their plan of care. So, I’m spending a lot of that time in my office until the bell rings.
And then once the bell rings at 2:05 every day, that’s when I have between, if we’re looking at the fall, I probably see, I would say about 300 athletes a week that are coming in and out of my office for taping or evaluations. So, I keep records of all of that, but the fall is the busiest and that’s between, like I said, 2:00, 3:30 before the games start when kids are just in my office getting treatment or getting taped.
And then I head out to the games and do game coverage until 6:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 PM. It depends on the season.
Schimri Yoyo: Right.
Amanda Randall: And I cover Freshmen, JV, and Varsity level sports. So, I’m there for all the games and I prioritize which game I’m going to based on the likelihood of catastrophic injuries. So, I’m balancing that every day, too, in deciding how my afternoon’s going to look.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, as the Head Athletic Trainer there at Walpole High, what injury are you seeing most often with your athletes?
Amanda Randall: Great question. When we’re talking about injuries, we have acute injuries and chronic injuries. Acute are the injuries that are happening on the spot. You have a clear mechanism of injury. You see the fall. You see the ankle twist. For acute injuries, ankle sprains, that’s probably what I’m seeing the most of, lateral ankle sprains.
Schimri Yoyo: Yep.
Amanda Randall: And then for chronic injuries, shin splints are probably what I see the most of; [that] or knee or hip tendonitis. But, we find that a lot of those tendonitis injuries are related to either inadequate strength in the core or in the hips. So, a lot of what I’m doing when I’m doing preventative treatment and post-injury treatment is doing hip and core strengthening because that’s where a lot of these injuries come from, especially for the younger kids where their muscles aren’t quite as developed.
Schimri Yoyo: So, what would you say are some of the most beneficial exercises for a young high school athlete to build those core muscles?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, so I have a Google drive that’s full of different workouts. If a kid comes in with an injury, I’m giving them specific body part exercises, but I almost always send them the core hip strengthening stuff, too. So a lot of clamshells, hip bridges, squats, lunges.
You would be surprised at how many people think [they] can do a squat and you have them come in and say, “Alright, give me your best squat.” How many people [that] can’t do a proper squat is shocking. That’s usually on every exercise routine that I give to someone.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, teaching proper technique is huge, I bet.
Amanda Randall: Yes.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, what are some things that any person, young or old, can do to prevent injuries while they’re training?
Amanda Randall: I think that starting small and working your way up is probably the most important basic advice to give to somebody. But that’s also the reason that we see the most of the injuries that we do is the person, whether it be a younger person or older, that they go gung-ho zero to a hundred right off the bat.
So, for the high school and collegiate athletes, if coaches are giving out offseason workouts, they really should be taking those seriously because if they’re not doing anything and then the first day of tryouts or practice, if they’re going full go with those sprints or whatever, they’re going to injure themselves. So, I would just say slow and progressive treatment and training is the best way to go.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good advice. Now, we hear a lot about high school or college athletes, or even some pro athletes, having serious heat-related injuries or illness. What are some things that both the athletes and the training staff can do to help prevent these issues?
Amanda Randall: Great question. That’s been in the news a lot the past four or five years with some tragic stuff that’s happened. As athletic trainers, we have equipment on us for any type of event where there is going to be a factor of heat to prevent a heat illness or injury, but also to treat it if it were to happen.
The first course of action that we have is we have a device that measures the humidity and it also takes into account the sun exposure. So, I could have a different reading on a turf field, and then I can go down to our lower grass field and it gives me a different percentage. It basically just gives me the heat index number based on the environmental factors wherever I am. It’s pretty great. Every athletic trainer, as of this year in Massachusetts, needed to have one of those, even down to the high school level.
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So, we have that and that’s called a wet-bulb thermometer, by the way. So, we have those for football. If it’s a hot day or hot week, I have a hundred-gallon tub that I bring to the side of the field. And if somebody were to have signs of heat illness, then we would dump the ice water from the Gatorade coolers into that tub and put the athlete in there and then we take their core body temperature.
And I told the coaches this, and you can imagine the look they gave me, but the most accurate way to take core body temperature is through the rectum. So, I have a rectal thermometer and most athletic trainers do because it’s recommended by our national organization, NATA. The coaches were like, “Whoa,” but it’s actually very important for us to have because we want to get an accurate reading. So, that’s something else that we have there.
And then just in general, good practices. So if it is a hot day, we’re going to be modifying practice, modifying the equipment that the athletes are wearing. And if it’s very warm, then we’re canceling activity altogether because we obviously don’t want to risk any lives.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, how do you work with coaches to help the students and the athletes maximize their physical potential without exposing them to potential burnout?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the things that I’ve really been pushing this year is talking about youth sports and early sports specialization. And that’s very, very much being pushed by our organization in general right now, so I’m sure you’d find a lot of articles on that.
But, I’m talking to coaches and also talking to parents and kids, that they really shouldn’t be playing one single sport the entire year, playing the club teams, and then playing for the school. It’s too much. At this level, particularly when they’re in middle school, early high school, they really should be getting a variety of activity anyway, to keep their body healthy and to prevent overuse injuries.
So, that goes along with the health aspect, but just for the burnout like you’re saying, that matters just as much. You’ve got to mix it up because they’re going to burn out if they’re only focused on one thing. By the time they get to college, they’re not even going to want to play the sport that they’ve mastered. So, mixing it up, lots of different sports.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice. Have you had experience working with students or athletes who are struggling with body image issues, and if you have, how do you support them?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, we see that more in certain types of sports, individual sports, where the athlete feels like they’re the main focus or their body is a focus. So our gymnasts, our distance runners, we see [body image issues] the most. But, I’ve dealt with several athletes because I work with teenagers as well, [and] you know that that age group’s extra susceptible to body image issues. When I am looking for symptoms of that, it actually can be very tricky, because it’s a topic that not a lot of kids or people, in general, are comfortable talking about.
So, I just try to educate through my class and educate the coaches on promoting positive imagery to the students and to the athletes. And if they see any signs like rapid weight loss or for males, if their body’s changing on the other end, because males can have eating disorders too, or be over-training, to report that to me. And then I give that information to the school nurse or I’ll contact the family’s primary care physician and just give them a heads up so that they can check on it because it’s kind of a multifaceted approach when you see those types of things.[Editor’s note: In the video below, Hendrix Educators at MSU Moorhead are making a push to promote staying healthy and having high self-esteem to help students develop a better image of themselves.]
It’s not just about their body. Oftentimes they need to see a therapist, a nutritionist, follow up with their doctor. I just try to help facilitate pushing them in the right direction.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s great. Good answer. Well, Amanda, thank you very much for all your time and your great answers. We have a couple more questions before I let you go. What is your favorite part about being an educator and working with high school students?
Amanda Randall: Yeah, so I started out working at the college level, but when I went back to school for my health education degree, I really wanted to kind of like marry the two things where I’m working as a teacher and an athletic trainer, because I think that it’s just awesome working with younger people and having the chance to kind of see them develop, not just physically, but mentally, socially, all those things.
I just hope that I can have some type of positive influence on A. What career they choose or B. Just being a good person and a good role model for them. I hope that I can have some type of positive influence and that’s why I kind of chose to work with this age group.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. And lastly, for our audience, what are some recommendations for resources that have been helpful to you both in your career and just in your personal life? It could be podcasts or magazines or anything like that.
Amanda Randall: Let’s see. Well, I would say, I’m trying to think here. I always feel like the best resources were just the people around me who were doing what they enjoyed and just jumping in and seeing if there was an opportunity to talk to them to learn a little bit more about what they did or shadow them. So, I think that starting with people that are doing something with their life that you find interesting is a great place to start.
And then from there, you can kind of look into different programs whether it’s a certification that you can get or a college program if you’re looking to go to school. But yeah, I mean, I listen to a ton of podcasts. There’s not really anything sports medicine related though, so that’s fine.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s fine. We have lots of people who recommend a lot of different things, whether it’s sports medicine or entrepreneurship, or sometimes, even just life, because more and more we’re seeing the physical health and the mental health being intertwined, obviously, and how they are symbiotic.
A lot of the resources, again, sometimes are just to free up— mentally, they help [you to] get that energy and get you in a better space so that you’re in a peak position to then perform physically as well.
Amanda Randall: Yes, absolutely.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Well, thank you very much for your time, Amanda. It’s been great. And good luck to you and, hopefully, I’m not sure what it’s like for the end of this school year, but hopefully, by next fall, you’ll be back with students and we’ll all be back in buildings.
My kids are now out of school and they’re doing distance learning and they’re anxious to get back in buildings. So, hopefully, everyone in the country and the world will be in a better place and we’ll be able to [get back to normal] and you could be able to resume fall and winter sports.
Amanda Randall: Yeah, I hope so, too. I hope so, too. I miss everybody in the school for sure. I hope that you’re staying safe and everything. Thanks again for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, good luck.
Amanda Randall: Alright, thanks.
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