Behind the Scenes Access: Princeton’s Athletic Training Staff Excels
BY REBECCAH BARGER
Head Athletic Trainer Charlie Thompson and Director of Athletic Medicine Dr. Margot Putukian stood sideline at Goodman Stadium. It was the second game of the season for Princeton, the third for Lehigh. Both teams had failed to impress, and they needed a win to launch their 2009 season into the right groove. Junior Jordan Culbreath, who rushed for 1,206 yards and won first-team All-Ivy the previous year, was one of Princeton’s toughest rushing weapons. But Thompson and Putukian, watching him run against the Mountain Hawks, could tell by Culbreath’s performance something wasn’t right.
“We approached him after the game and at first he denied it, but when he realized we weren’t going to let it go, he told us his whole story,” Thompson said. “That started the process of him getting evaluated. That’s something I’ll take a lot of pride in – to be able to sift through something and figure out what’s going on – and there was something going on.”
Princeton beat Lehigh 17-14, and after a short break from football upon being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, Culbreath returned to play his senior year in 2010. Culbreath was one of many student-athletes Dr. Putukian and Thompson, along with Assistant Head Athletic Trainer George O’Neil and Athletic Trainer Dan “Tiger” Jarvis, have helped. All four are assigned to football, attending every practice and game both home and away.
Their work on the field is only part of their responsibility as athletic trainers. Thompson, O’Neil and Jarvis take care of everything from physicals to rehabilitation behind the scenes. The athletic medicine staff provides care to 38 varsity sports and 2 club sports, and medical professionals are present at every home event. For high-risk sports such as football, a team physician such as Dr. Putukian will be present at every practice and game, home and away, along with the athletic trainers.
Princeton’s athletic training services take on another special role as well. Since 1967, the Princeton athletic medicine staff has been considered health care providers who report to Princeton’s health center services rather than directly to coaches.
“It gives you separation. It gives you autonomy,” Thompson said. “We work very hard to put people back on the field when they’re ready. If I tell them it’s safe for them to go out, they’ll believe it’s safe for them to go out. That’s big part of what we do – trust. We work very hard to put people back on the field when they’re ready. We’re pushing these kids as hard as they can to get them healthy to play, not
just getting them on the field, but healthy.”
Princeton also excels in concussion care. Dr. Putukian is known as one of the top concussion experts in the country, and Princeton is the only Ivy League involved in the NCAA Department of Defense concussion research. Under this protocol, all athletes undergo baseline testing so that, if injured, the same protocol may be repeated on the sideline and compared to their initial results. The protocol also incorporates preseason education by trainers when speaking with their teams.
“The concussion protocol we have in place is not only for our high risk sports, but for all of our athletes,” Dr. Putukian said. “I think we do a very good job of trying to provide education to the coaches and the athletes in terms of understanding that this an important injury, so they recognize signs and symptoms and not try to play through that injury.”
Princeton is also the only school in the country home to three consecutive National Athletic Trainers Association hall of fame head athletic trainers. Thompson was awarded the honor in 2013. He now acts as chair over the award committees for the NATA and conducts keynote speeches on the importance of trust in between trainers and athletes and his muscle energy technique. Muscle energy uses an athlete’s own muscles to alleviate pain and stiffness as well as a flexibility and strength screening tool.
O’Neil and Jarvis also find the time to attend talks, research new techniques and share information nationally. O’Neil is the current committee chair for the Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association. Princeton is also the only Ivy League to partner with an NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Jarvis and Thompson frequently attend mini-camps and preseason exercises with Eagles players to exchange new athletic training techniques and technologies.
“[Partnering with the Philadelphia Eagles] keeps us active and keeps us up to date on what’s cutting edge,” Jarvis said. “A lot of times we bring stuff from the Eagles up here, and we also bring things to the Eagles, so it’s a really good working relationship. At the end of the day, it’s how can we get the players healthy because we want to win an Ivy League Championship just as much as the coaches do, so it means a lot to us. We’re always trying to raise the bar in the training room.”
Due to the time spent together, the athletes are often able to establish close relationships with the athletic training staff whether they see more time in the training room than the field or not. These relationships allow the staff to motivate the athletes and work through both mental and physical issues.
“One of the number one things that I love about by job is get to work with 18-22 year old, and they never get old,” O’Neil said. “The people change, but it’s still that same age bracket. For the most part, the guys want to get healthy and want to play, and they’re very motivated. It’s a lot easier to come to work when you know you’re going to be working with people that want to be successful and want to get better and want to motivate themselves to get better, so we can help them through their problems.”
Yet, for football’s trainers and team physician, each of which have worked with the team roughly a decade or more, the most rewarding experience is watching the players develop both academically and athletically.
“You see them grow up, and that’s one of the things we all enjoy seeing,” Jarvis said. “You see this kid that comes in who is young and doesn’t know his way. Then, all of a sudden by his senior year, his maturity level is higher, and we see how they progress. It’s fun to see, and then, it’s that much more amazing to know what they’re doing in the world and what they’ve accomplished.”
Check out Princeton’s Athletic Training Facilities below, the Caldwell Field House. Here, Princeton student-athletes receive the best in preventative and rehabilitative care from the athletic training staff. The room contains four zones: hydrotherapy, treatment, first-aid/taping and rehabilitation. Also included in the expansive room are offices for athletic trainers and physicians, as well as private consulting rooms.
To see the rest of our facilities, please visit here.