Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pay It Forward

Perhaps it's a little late, but it's worth noting that November was "Inspirational Role Models Month". As I am sitting here contemplating what topic to discuss with you this week, it is no coincidence to me that the Thanksgiving holiday is also in November. In the past couple of months my career has taken another step and of course, I am very thankful for this. But it got me thinking about those who have been very influential to me in my journey and how I attempt and have attempted to pay it forward as I continue.

It goes without saying that my parents have been big influences and role models to me. However, I don't want to turn this article into a mushy dedication. What I would like to do is take you through a somewhat abbreviated tour of how I got to my current place and talk about those who have guided me professionally.

My journey began in high school. I'm not quite sure exactly how I got into it. Perhaps it was because I was a high school athlete who saw the benefits and needs of being in top physical shape to perform my sport and stay healthy. At that time, I worked at a health club which allowed me to trade out my services in exchange for the personal sport coaching that I needed, use of the facility for practice, and eventually personal training and conditioning services. At first, I helped teach group sport lessons and manned the phones and appointment books in the fitness center. Then, I gradually progressed into assisting the fitness professionals and performing personal fitness evaluations. I'm sure it was here that I really began to develop my interest in the fields of sports medicine and sports performance. By my senior year, I had the opportunity to get involved with a personal training and consulting company that, while they made their money on the typical fitness / weight management client, really emphasized the training and conditioning of athletes in the area where I lived. As luck would have it, the company rented a small office at the club and used the fitness center area to train their clients. The owner/president of the company was a man named John Philbin. At the time, he had worked with the Washington Redskins and was currently the Head Coach / Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Bobsled Team. He allowed me to shadow him and his staff. They took me completely under their wing and as time went on, I began to be involved much more than just shadowing. It was here that my love for this profession began and grew much more than "What kind of job do I want when I grow up?" It became a passion.

Once I entered college, I was just as determined to learn more about the field. At the time, there were a handful of curriculum education programs. However, the dominant mode of education was the internship or work-study program for athletic trainers. I was relentless. I turned in a resume for application in both the university's athletic weight room and the training room. And for the first month I was on campus, I contacted or visited them almost daily. I was granted a student position in both the weight room and athletic training room. For the remainder of the school year, I proceded to attend class and work. I remember spending an ungodly amount of time at the athletic complex. Needless to say with the stresses of school (obviously there are many adjustments to make your first time away at school) and the stresses of a job, my grades suffered. My superiors in the weight room and athletic training room sent me home for the summer after my freshman year with a decision to make. Having spent the summer returning to my previous mentors from high school, I felt that I had acquired a fairly good background in the strength and conditioning arena. When I returned to school for my second year, I devoted my attention to the sports medicine side. Over the course of the next few years, I was blessed to be taught and mentored by several graduate assistants who came from a variety of backgrounds. As graduate students, they too had very stressful school demands. Yet, they took the time to organize a make shift athletic training curriculum for the student athletic trainers. A couple even went above and beyond to make sure that those of us who were serious about continuing on in the profession received extra attention and mentoring. It was through these young professionals that I really began to see the benefits of a wide range of experiences and began to develop my own philosophy of training.

In the real world (after school), you find mentors everywhere. I've found that the further along I've come to learn that all of my colleagues and co-workers are mentors. Everyone has a different background and set of experiences. It's up to us to take what we can learn from each other, blend what we like and can use, and discard the rest. (Yet, it's important to keep the discarded in the back of your mind - you never know when it might be useful.) This is how we continue to grow, adapt, and mold our professional philosophies. Over the years, I have again been blessed to find individuals and small groups that share my passion. These people have allowed me to continue to enjoy what I do and fuel my desire to get better at it.

How do I pay this type of inspiration forward?

1. Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of corresponding with high school students who are interested in the sports medicine / performance professions. I am always willing to share my story. As an athletic trainer performing high school outreach, I mentored several students and eventually worked with the Health Occupations teacher at the school to develop a pilot High School Sports Medicine Curriculum and team taught this class with the Health Occupations teacher for 2 years.

2. Once I completed my undergraduate degree and became a graduate assistant myself, I made sure that the student athletic trainers that I helped to supervise had the same time of support and learning environment that was provided to me. As the university was looking to maybe one day add an athletic training curriculum and added some of the necessary course work to the catelog, I took it upon myself to help create a clinical learning environment in the athletic training room. We created a clinical competencies program and tried to establish more student oriented learning environment each week when the physicians were around to see injured athletes.

3. Later in my professional career, I have searched for opportunities to present / speak at various conferences and meetings. I try and instigate or spur on informal discussions with individuals / small groups about relevent topics. I have hosted interns. And, it is this desire to "pay it forward" that has led me to co-found BaseballStrengthCoaching.com's web and blog sites.

I know that I have mentioned it before in my blogs, but one mentor of mine in particular - Dr. Jack Hughston - used to say, "If you're green, your still growing. If you're ripe, you're next to rotten." We should never stop trying to learn, grow, and pay it forward.

We should all stop for a moment, take a look at the path we've taken to get to where we are, and remember those who have helped us get there. Then, just as it was important for us to absorb what those mentors taught us, it is important for us to become mentors ourselves and "Pay It Forward". It is only then that we can continue to grow our professions and fuel the fire of those future professionals and leaders.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

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