The success of BYU athletics lies with the trainers

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Whether it’s a game-changing sack by Kyle Van Noy or a game-winning jumper from Tyler Haws, BYU’s athletes attribute a portion of their game-time success to careful planning and preparation by the sports medicine department.

There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure BYU upholds its winning tradition in the world of sports. While many BYU athletes have the opportunity to take a step back from sports and relax during the offseason, there is still one team hard at work to prepare for the upcoming seasons: the sports medicine team.

“Sports medicine is an umbrella term,” said Carolyn Billings, director of BYU sports medicine. “It covers a lot of professions … and our overall goal is to keep that athlete healthy and in top condition to compete.”

Athletic Trainer Carolyn Billings works with BYU Gymnast Eliane Kulczyk to help strengthen her foot and ankle (Courtesy of Chris Bunker)
Athletic Trainer Carolyn Billings works with BYU Gymnast Eliane Kulczyk to help strengthen her foot and ankle (Photo by Chris Bunker)

Billings monitors the activities of a large staff that consists of eight full-time athletic trainers, eight intern athletic trainers, one full-time physical therapist, one full-time sports psychologist, one part-time nutritionist and two part-time massage therapists. Along with all those employees, the department coordinates with a wide variety of doctors in the area, according to the needs of the individual athletes.

“I think we have a really good team,” Billings said. “I have great support of the administration here in athletics (that) believes in the importance of sports medicine … they back us and support us.”

The sports medicine department, commonly referred to as the athletic training staff, is responsible for each athlete’s overall fitness and care from the day those athletes arrive on campus. The primary goal of the BYU program is “to keep athletes healthy and prepared for competition by reducing their susceptibility to injury.” Billings narrowed what they do down to two things that help them achieve their goal: the Functional Movement Screen and educating the athletes on things like the importance of proper sleep, eating well and hydration, among other things.

The football team is perhaps the most heavily monitored team, due to the extremely physical nature of the sport. The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is used to help these athletes recognize needs in their body.

“(FMS) is a combination of movements and skills that will allow us to asses an athlete’s ability to perform certain things,” said Jeff Hurst, head football trainer. “We can then use that screening tool (FMS) … to asses how they move and then use corrective exercises in order to improve that screen, which then translates to better movement, more efficiency, better skills, more speed.”

To keep a level playing field between conferences and teams, the NCAA has established strict rules with regard to student-athlete nutrition. The department is given a budget, and it can only use that budget for basic things like nuts, bagels and chocolate milk. These things can’t be used as meals, only replacements. Despite the strict rules, the football staff monitors players carefully to keep them in game-day shape as much as possible.

“Nutrition has been a big point of emphasis since last summer,” Hurst said. “Getting our guys fast, getting our guys strong, getting our guys lean and fit to play football … the days of the 350-pound offensive lineman, those days are long gone. It’s speed, it’s power, it’s explosiveness and so you have to have those things trained, that doesn’t just happen over night.”

Head football coach Bronco Mendenhall asks a lot of his team, as well as of the athletic training staff. Hurst and his staff attend a convention every year where they get education on all the new and most effective techniques.

In a press conference, Tom Holmoe predicted the success of the football team, through its difficult upcoming schedule, would depend on how many players can stay healthy; Hurst wholeheartedly agrees.

“My goal with this team is to have the healthiest team that we can possibly have,” Hurst said. “If we’re healthy we play better, if we’re healthy we’re on the field, if we’re healthy we’re not spending time doing rehabilitative work … we’re doing strength-building work, and we’re doing speed-building work.”

Hurst and his staff have the difficult task of deciding when an athlete is ready to play after an injury. This scheduling is often met with scrutiny and pressure from the team, the players themselves and even the fans.

“Sometimes you’re not the most popular guy on campus when you don’t let your starting guy go ’cause of an injury,” Hurst said. “They have to be able to perform and be safe doing so … If their injury does not allow them to do those two things, well then it doesn’t help us to have a guy out there that can only go 70 percent.”

The athletic training staff is crucial to the success of every team as well as to each student-athlete’s well-being. Student-athletes can receive care and training from the athletic training staff at almost any time.

“They like to think they can come in at any time; they really like to think we’re 24-7,” Billings laughed. “We do try to be as available as we can … they’ll text us and we’ll kind of evaluate what they need. We are here quite a bit for them, but we do like to go home at night.”

Even if the athletic training staff does not put in 24 hours a day, they still deserve more credit for the amount of hard work they put in for the athletes’ success. While fans cheer on the Cougars, they should also cheer on the unnamed trainers on the sidelines that really keep the ball rolling on game days.

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