Play Station: Florida's professional athletic trainers
Jay Sabol, 53
Head Athletic Trainer
Jay Sabol says it’s a pre-game custom to greet the other team’s athletic trainer and wish each other a “boring game,” but injuries are inevitable in a high-speed, dynamic contact sport like basketball — and staying cool under fire is critical.
“Last year, they made fun of me, the guys on TNT, because I had a player who dislocated his finger and he was hollering and he’d never seen his finger sideways before. I just kind of walked over, nonchalantly. I put his finger back in place,” he recalls. “Everybody said I didn’t care, but that’s far from the truth because obviously I cared.”
In fact, he was executing a plan — holding the player’s finger, making eye contact with an assistant trainer and physician and leading the player off the court for an X-ray. The player eventually returned to the game with his finger taped. “You can’t get down and you can’t get high. You have to be that steady calm all the time.”
Sabol says he watches games differently than fans might. “I’m not always watching the ball. I’m watching the big guys making contact. I’m watching feet.” He doesn’t watch a lot of sports outside of his job. “Mailmen don’t go for walks on their days off,” he says.
Tom Mulligan, 42
Head Athletic Trainer
Tampa Bay Lightning
Bolts’ fans will probably recognize Tom Mulligan as the guy who rushes onto the ice to tend to a player who takes a hard hit or a puck to the head. But there’s also plenty of work behind the scenes that goes into overseeing the health and safety of players in a sports franchise. Game days typically start at 7:30 a.m. with a morning skate, followed by meetings, treatments and rehab for injured players. When players get a few hours off after lunch to decompress, Mulligan tends to administrative work and keeps tabs on players in the minor leagues, junior prospects and college prospects. Players arrive back at the rink three hours before game time, and Mulligan and his crew prepare them for the ice, performing treatments, warm-up, dynamic activations, massage — “whatever you can think of to get their body best prepared for the game.”
Constant travel adds to the challenge. “Right now, we’re in the middle of a six-game, 12-day road trip, and you’re bouncing from city to city every day, getting into hotels late — that’s a huge challenge you want to manage,” Mulligan said during a phone call from the road. “You want to make sure players are getting the proper amount of sleep and recovery, but at the same time you want to keep fitness levels up.”
Despite the long hours and time on the road, Mulligan loves his job. “It’s great to be part of a team. When a team has success, you do feel part of it — you feel you contributed,” he says. “If a player‘s out with a long-term injury, and they’ve gone through several months of rehab, to see them come back and get back to playing the game that they love, that’s a good feeling to know that you were able to be part of that.”
“The biggest thing is listening to your body. Try not to overdo it, you see sometimes, people get in the gym and they’ll really overwork and kind of hurt their body. Gradually build into a program. If you’re starting out on a program, don’t try to accomplish your goals in the first week. Set small goals.”
Keon Weise, 38
Head Athletic Trainer
Growing up in Philadelphia, Keon Weise would peer through his dad’s binoculars at Eagles games, focusing on that “one guy” on the sidelines who “seemed so composed” amid all the chaos. That guy was legendary Eagles athletic trainer Ortho Davis. “Players would be on the field in obvious pain one minute. (Davis) would come out and talk to them and put his hands on them and next thing you know, they are going back into the game,” recalls Weise. “I wanted to grow up and be just like him.”
Today, as head athletic trainer for the Orlando Magic, Weise is living his dream. On a daily basis, his duties might range from stopping a bloody nose to consulting with a surgeon about a player’s rehab to tending to a sick coach. Preventive care is a big focus. Weise and his staff do a detailed assessment of every player to identify imbalances, bad movement mechanics and any joint or muscular deficiencies. Then Weise constructs individualized treatment, “prehabilitation” and strength and conditioning protocols.
Keeping players on track during the off-season is important as well. In fact, that’s when players get “a little more aggressive” with their fitness and strength training. “We send them away with specific training protocols,” he says. “We have apps that we’ve created that has each individual payer’s workout and daily conditioning and training sessions.”
FITNESS & NUTRITION TIPS
Weise offers these fitness and nutrition tips for everybody, athlete and non-athletes:
Implement variation in your training from strength training to cardio to yoga to Pilates to sports like tennis, golf or basketball “so that you’re developing different muscle groups and taxing different energy systems.” Mixing it up helps prevent overuse/ chronic injuries.
Many people don’t eat enough, or often enough. “Eat when you wake up and continue to eat throughout the day so your energy is sustained and you don’t have a significant drop-off from energy levels or focus levels because you are not taking in enough nutrients.”
Ron Porterfield, 51
Head Athletic Trainer
Tampa Bay Rays
On a typical game-day fitness regimen: A hot whirlpool warm-up, foam rolling routine or total body stretch and light cardio work. Conditioning and strength work (total body) two to three times a week for 60 to 90 minutes each time. They will do early skill work, then a team stretch and warm-up, followed by batting practice, ground balls and throwing. They usually eat lunch at the ballpark and have a pregame meal and dinner postgame there. Spare time is usually getting injury treatment, napping, playing cards or video games.
His nutritional philosophy: Hydration is key. We usually have them take some form of electrolyte supplement, electrolyte drink and tell them eight to 12 bottles of water. As far as diet, we have a chef and emphasize high carbohydrates pregame and high protein postgame. We educate our players on the use of diuretics, coffee, tea, carbonated beverages and energy drinks, and allow them but recommend moderation. We educate on the use of alcohol and hydration recovery. I weigh players about one to two times a month to monitor weight gain. It’s only concerning if there is an increase of six to eight pounds or more. I am more concerned with weight loss, which is more prevalent, as this can result in total body weakness and injury.