WRITTEN BY: MANNY OZOA, MS, ATC
MINOR LEAGUE ATHLETIC TRAINER, NEW YORK YANKEES
When I became a certified Athletic Trainer, I always knew I wanted to work in the professional sport setting. Coming from a medical background, my parents instilled upon me the gratification associated with working with people and making a direct impact on their health and overall well-being. Over the past five years, I have been fortunate enough to work with four professional sports organizations across the United States. An athletic training internship with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 was the first stepping stone in my professional career. From there, graduate school and internships with the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers solidified my foundation and understanding of the professional sports setting in greater detail. By working hard and developing positive relationships, I found myself obtaining a position with one of the most prestigious professional sports franchises in the world.
Making the shift from covering a contact to a non-contact sport was a challenging transition for myself as an Athletic Trainer. The nature of professional football and baseball present each of its own unique challenges and approaches to the treatment of your athletes. In football, athletes are progressed to peak and recover at specific times of the week whereas in baseball, athletes are trained to compete day-in and day-out for weeks at a time. With recovery days few and far in between, proactive daily preventative exercise and maintenance routines are essential to your athletes’ health and success. Learning about the throwing motion and position-specific biomechanics greatly helped me develop new injury prevention techniques and how to systematically prepare my athletes for competition.
After being hired by the Yankees in May 2016, I had about three weeks to learn the ropes before I was informed I was going to cover Rookie Ball for the Pulaski Yankees in the Appalachian League. The next thing I knew I was living out of two suitcases and was learning on the fly how to manage 35 professional baseball players with half of them not knowing the English language. My first real test on my own was when one of my Latin American athletes took a 91 MPH fastball to the face on the last game of our home opening series. At the time, any anxiousness or nervousness faded away and natural instinct kicked in. After he was transported to the nearest hospital and diagnosed with an orbital fracture, I received quick support and reassurance from Mark Littlefield and my team physician, Dr. Mark Rogers, that I had all the tools to take care of the situation. Looking back at things now, I greatly appreciate the Minor League affiliate environment and the experience it has given me. It is a great environment in which you can strive to improve your strengths and weaknesses knowing that there will always be help when you need it.
Working with some of the youngest prospect athletes in the Yankee organization has given myself a new appreciation and love for being a leader and educator. Over time, I have learned the Yankee Way begins with a personal and professional commitment to growth. I believe one of the most important skills an Athletic Trainer can have is the ability to see and understand what others are experiencing and feeling. Empathy is a powerful communication skill that is often misunderstood and underappreciated. An appropriate statement or gesture can go a long way in building trust, increasing patient satisfaction and improving our quality of care. The mental development at this minor league level is crucial to building the foundation of these players’ careers. It requires you to be patient, think before you act, how to maturely reveal emotion and exercise restraint when needed. Becoming a Yankee has been a humbling experience – taking care of the youthful future of the organization not only requires you to be a professional role model but teaches you much about yourself through constant introspection of your clinical and personal skills.
Going into my third season with the Pulaski Yankees with two spring trainings underneath my belt, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that there truly is something you can learn from everybody. Working with over 10 athletic trainers, strength and conditioning specialists, physical therapists and sport science staff, it is hard not to learn something new each day. On Day One, our medical coordinator, Mark Littlefield, and assistant head athletic trainer, Greg Spratt, instilled in me the importance of communication and attention to detail. With over 200 baseball players to be responsible for, our job cannot be handled by just one person. Any small note or detail is imperative to be accounted for, whether it be a crack in a fingernail, soft tissue maintenance or a shoulder stretch.
Moreover, I have learned the importance of keeping up-to-date recent research to further improve our clinical medicine. The world of Athletic Training is constantly evolving with practice becoming more sports-specific by the day. Working with our physical therapist, David Colvin, I have realized there is much to learn through evidence-based research and data collection. Analyzing data through movement screens, range of motion and strength measurements have become new tools to performance enhancement and injury prevention. Also, being able to work with different departments such as sports science, mental conditioning, nutrition and video has provided innovative ways to take our athletes to the next level. With new tools in the toolbox, it is pertinent that we continue to learn the new knowledge available to guide and push our profession forward in the right direction.
Being able to work for the New York Yankees organization each day is a privilege that requires you to be at your very best each day. The most important thing I have learned as a New York Yankee is to take pride in the things you do and your organization. The Yankee tradition encompasses many things such as service, trust, respect, integrity, value and excellence. It is not only about learning about a specific mindset to get the task at hand done – it is about instilling a belief, work ethic and environment that brings out the best in ourselves and enabling others to do the same. By developing good habits and bringing a positive attitude to work each day, you can gain vital confidence in your skills and help teach the mentality of what it takes to get to the Major Leagues.
Working with professional athletes, I have realized your ability to engage and relate to your athletes is just as important as your clinical skills. Understanding the population that you work with is essential to you and your athletes’ success. Working with a majority of Latin American athletes, I have learned to appreciate their culture, language and ideologies. Latin American athletes carry themselves with a lot of passion and emotion. I believe the way they carry themselves on the field is very similar to the way Athletic Trainers approach their athletes and treatments. Our profession is not about money or fancy offices. At the core it is about compassion, camaraderie and commitment. Working as a MiLB Athletic Trainer for the New York Yankees, I discovered it is one of the most unique and rewarding work environments around. Here are my personal tips from my experience on how to be a successful athletic trainer in professional sports:
- Be a team player. Carry yourself with a strong, positive enthusiasm. Be genuine. Set an example for others. Handle pressure the right way. Be a personable, people person. Enjoy the little things.
- Become detail oriented. Understand the specifics of the task at hand. Thoroughly check your work and do not be afraid to ask again about what needs to get done. Become a forward thinker. Develop your ability to listen.
- Stay hungry. Learning from your mistakes. Always look to improve your clinical and interpersonal skills. Create a sense of appreciation for where you are.
- Take pride in the things you do. Work with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Have fun with the things you do. Be proactive with the treatment and rehabilitation of your athletes. Create positive relationships, be coachable and able to adapt to different situations. Be a leader committed to personal and professional growth.
All in all, I appreciate the many lessons and experiences progressing from an intern to an experienced, professional Athletic Trainer. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn as much as I can each day.