Football Sports

How the training staff keeps athletes going

Trainers check players for concussions if they go and stay down on the field after big hits. Thomas Dwyer | The Cougar

Before the sun rises and the city heats up, the athletic training staff of the University of Houston is already out and about.

Football practices don’t begin until 9:00 a.m., but the trainers get to campus by 5:00 a.m. to start the day.

Leading the staff is head athletics trainer Dr. Michael O’Shea, who is starting his 25th season with the Cougars and 55th as an athletic trainer.

The staff starts the day by filling ice baths for the players and getting equipment ready before taping up the ankles of every player on the team to give them extra protection. The process can take up to two hours to complete.

Then the players go to their meetings before heading to the field, where the trainers keep an eye on the players to make sure they stay healthy.

“The biggest thing that we stress is hydration. They pretty much have to hydrate 24/7 because it is so hot outside,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea said the indoor practice facility will be a huge boon this season. The $20 million facility opened last November, and this is the first summer it has had to withstand.

“We’ve always had a lot of problems with ‘Where do we go when it rains?’ and we’d have to get on buses and go somewhere, but now all we have to do is walk across the street,” said O’Shea. “We have one of the nicest indoor facilities in the country.”

Nutrition is also a big part of the Cougars’ workouts, and the school hired a new performance nutritionist in March.

The team uses a new meal program to make sure that all athletes, not just those in football, are eating correctly, O’Shea said.

The heart

Athletes’ mental health has been another point of focus in recent years.

Major league athletes like the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love and ex-Baltimore Raven Steve Smith Sr. have spoken out about their struggles with anxiety and depression to help athletes and public figures be more willing to come forward.

It is a subject that UH Athletics is also taking seriously, said O’Shea.

“It’s something that we’ve really been made aware of… that there are some mental health problems out there,” said O’Shea. “You have to take kids seriously. If they say certain things, then you need to sit down and talk to them.”

O’Shea said when they identify athletes as needing help, they send them to UH’s Counseling and Psychological Services or other services within the city.

The head

Concussions and how to treat them is something the team is constantly working on, O’Shea said.

Houston, like many other schools, is now more adamant about the subject, and the concussion program has become very strict. The first step is seeing the signs.

“It’s not too hard to figure out who has one because you see them get hit. Probably the biggest symptoms are that they have a headache and they are sensitive to light,” O’Shea said.

After diagnosing a concussion, the team has the player go through the team’s concussion protocol, which is a multistep process, according to O’Shea.

The protocol starts by waiting at least a day, then having the athlete go through a checklist of about 14 different areas, including sensitivity to noise and sensitivity to light.

The athlete will rate those areas from a scale of zero to six, with zero being no symptoms and six being heavy symptoms.

Once all items on the checklist are zero, the athlete must then wait 24 more hours before beginning to ride on a bike machine. If the athlete shows no symptoms, they wait another 24 hours and then jog before being checked again.

This process repeats with different stages of practice every 24 hours, from doing just drills with no pads, practice with pads and limited contact and then finally practice with contact.

Players are cleared only when they get through every phase without symptoms. If an athlete reports headaches or symptoms anytime during the process, it starts over from square one at the checklist.

It is a long road to recovery, but O’Shea said it is a process that UH is more than ready to do right.

“Years ago, we didn’t know what we know now. Now we know lots more, and we’re able to act on it and do something,” said O’Shea.

The University of Houston’s Counseling and Psychological Services can be reached at 713-743-5454, and its offices are at the Student Services Center 1, Rm. 226 near the A.D. Bruce Religion Center.

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