As I’ve served the athletic and coaching community through sports ministry the last five years, I’ve noticed quite a few changes since I last played youth and high school sports 30 years ago.
Among those changing trends is the use of personal athletic trainers by high school athletes. These trainers serve the athlete, in exchange for a fee, in a “third party” capacity — meaning they typically have no connection to the school or sports program attended by the athlete.
Personal trainers are now common place at the high school level, especially in basketball and football, using the too-often fool’s gold lure of top-level collegiate and even professional success as a result of utilizing their services.
This leads the athlete, and his or her parents, to believe that hiring a trainer is their kid’s best bet for athletic glory. Look no further than the plethora of personal trainer websites to see the implicit promise of sporting success beyond high school.
It’s truly become a staple in our 24/7, sports saturated media age that highlights individual achievement, enormous professional salaries and glitzy marketing opportunities for an extremely tiny percent of the athletic community.
Generally speaking, I don’t fully trust personal trainers because, as business operators, I don’t think most have the best interests of the athletes they serve in mind. They, too often times, tell the kids and their parents what they WANT to hear. I’ve seen it and heard it firsthand.
The lure, again, of way too many football and basketball trainers is making unrealistic promises — implicit or direct — to post-high school success when only 6.5% of football players and 3.4% of basketball players will play in college, with about 1% of college players being drafted into either the NBA or NFL, according to the NCAA.
Where this all comes to a head in high school basketball and football is the often unintended muddying of the relationships between the players, their coaches and the programs they play for, as well as the personal trainers.
There’s just an inherent conflict of interest in the triangle between trainer, player and coach. And that doesn’t even include the parental dynamic which is a topic for another day.
In many cases, the trainer ultimately is running a business and his interests are with the individual player and the parent who is writing the check every month. Whereas the coach is an educator, trained on developing the mind, body and spirit of an athlete.
He has to mold the player by maximizing his abilities and overcoming his weaknesses, within the team concept of what’s best for the overall program which may, in the case of football, include 100+ players.
Too often, there is the direct conflict between a trainer telling a player and parent what they want to hear which contradicts what the coach is telling them which is what, more often than not, they NEED to hear.
There’s just a conflict of interest when the parent is writing a check every month. I once heard a basketball coach say, “Let that check bounce once and then see if the trainer is still telling the parent what they want to hear!”
Recently, I talked separately to three South Metro football coaches to gather their thoughts on this recent phenomenon of personal trainers, and the effects on their athletes, programs and the sport overall. Note – I had only talked with, and shared my personal opinion on the subject with one of three coaches before they offered up their thoughts.
For Dutchtown head football coach Mark Myers, it’s a head scratcher with all that high school football programs offer to the athletes year around now, why the use of personal trainers is even necessary.
“I think for a college athlete that’s getting ready for the NFL combine, a trainer is necessary because that’s what they’ll be tested on,” Myers said. “But it’s become such a huge money maker for the trainers and a lot of them have become vultures to the mothers. I tell my parents ‘If they want it, have at it. You can spend your money anyway you want, but you’re already getting it for free here.’
“Football has become year around at the schools with position drills, strength and conditioning and camps that we go to,” Myers continued. “So I don’t see how the kids are benefiting. They’re training three and four days at the school and then going to see their personal trainer. At some point, the body needs to rest. And when do they have time to study and do school work? Overtraining sets in, with high school burnout being very real.”
Tim Floyd, the head coach of the Jonesboro Cardinals, which made the Class AAAA Elite Eight in football during the 2015 season, while coaching a cache of Division I signees, also sees the detrimental impact that some trainers can have on a player and the program.
“Personal trainers most definitely have influence on kids and parents,” Floyd said. “Some personal trainers produce obstacles that some schools have to overcome, such as transfers, interfering with team activities and teaching different techniques.”
Lovejoy Wildcats coach Ed Carson noted that there can be a positive, but also a negative side to personal trainers.
“Personal trainers that played the game can be very influential on kids, sharing their stories, teaching techniques to help them get bigger, stronger and faster,” Carson said. “But on the flip side, it can be negative, especially when it interferes with what coaches are trying to do. The personal trainer should build a relationship with the coach, and they should build a relationship together to find a common goal for the athlete. If not, they’re on two different accords and it can be treacherous.”
And ultimately, the coaches pointed out that when they speak to recruiters, what those recruiters want to see is game film. They want to see how the athletes perform under the Friday night lights.
“In today’s game, we’re dealing with a lot of kids who work with personal trainers who tell them ‘This is what you need to be doing,’ and that can conflict with what the coach is doing,” Carson said. “Too often, whatever the kid hears that’s new and hot to them, they’re attracted to it. But at the end of the day, you have to work hard. College coaches are going to watch your high school film, they’re not going to watch you work out with your personal trainer.”
Bill Renje is a staff writer with thecrescentbuzz.com, and is also on staff with the South Metro Atlanta Chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Follow him on Twitter @BillRenje.