Murphy Grant’s passion for athletic training goes beyond the day-to-day of preparation, treatment and rehabilitation of student athletes as Head Football Trainer and Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Kansas.
By serving the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) as Executive Chair of the Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine (ICSM), formerly the CUATC (College and University Athletic Trainers Committee), he also provides insight and guidance that affects the entire AT community.
Under Murphy’s leadership, the NCAA now considers a medical perspective whenever it proposes new protocols. He also leading the way to ensure that a collegiate AT is on each of the many rules committees for various sports, because these rules can impact the health of student athletes.
Despite these achievements, which also include pioneering advancements in aquatic rehabilitation and appearances on The Biggest Loser, Murphy is always focused on the health and well-being of the student athlete.
We spoke to Murphy about overcoming some of the challenges, as well as the rewards, of being a collegiate AT.
Growing up, I wanted to get into the healthcare profession: I wanted to be a doctor.
When I went to college, I played football, and the demands of both sports and academics were very great. I tried to do both premed and football, and it was pretty tough during my first year and a half.
Then I got injured during my sophomore year, so I spent a lot of time with the AT there. It was unfortunate that I was injured, but fortunate because we’re good friends to this day.
Because I didn’t want to give up either the medical focus or the interest in sports, the idea of pursuing sports medicine just came together. I was able to follow the sports medicine program while also playing ball.
Athletic training and me, we sort of just found each other!
I think some may have the sports background in high school. Nowadays, however, it’s a lot more difficult to become an AT while also pursuing collegiate athletics. With the change in the degree program, this will allow student athletes to pursue athletic training. By 2020–21, the athletic training becomes a master’s degree program, so students will be attending an AT school as one would attend a physical therapy school, occupational therapy school, etc.
Overall I think what motivates a person to become an AT is really pure passion, being able to take care of the student athletes, being around the health care profession. But there are many different paths.
I’m a goal-oriented individual. When I was young and just starting out in the profession, I set a goal for myself to work Division I athletics. Many of the young people in the profession I speak to have similar goals.
But there are only so many Division I programs and only so many Division I AT positons. If it’s something that you really want, then the only thing holding you back is yourself. You have to be willing to put yourself out there; you have to be willing to be honest with individuals who offer the kinds of positions you’re looking for.
When I was starting out, I faced situations where a school was looking for X number of years of Division I experience, and I flat-out said, “How am I going to get Division I experience if you don’t give me the opportunity?”
But as a young professional, you have to be willing to stand up for yourself: if that’s something you want, then go and get it!
That’s one challenge in becoming an AT. But like other challenges in work and in life, it’s about having a good mindset and support system to overcome them.
There’s sacrifice with just about anything you want to succeed and excel in. There are some things I’ve had to sacrifice for my growth and success at the collegiate level.
What’s helpful for me is that my wife is an AT as well. She understands the challenges ATs face at this level. The main issue, and many Division I ATs around the country would agree, is having enough time to spend with family.
Life moves fast and your kids grow up really quick. And the way sports are now, it seems like we’re staffing the athletic training room and are around the student athletes quite a bit. Hopefully, you can find a position at a school where they’re family-oriented.
With my staff, we have little kids in the training room all the time, which is cool to see! And I know my kids were in the athletic training rooms, on the stools and playing with the balls in the rehab area. It’s helpful to have a good support system and a staff that knows we’re here to help and take care of each other—for instance, they (my staff) know that their sport will be covered or student-athlete taken care of if they had to take a child to the doctor or even to school.
You have to be honest and professional. As ATs, we have jobs to do, dealing with the health of the student athlete. A lot of us understand we wouldn’t have our jobs if not for the student athlete. Their care is important to the success of the team, as well as each student’s health as they move forward with their eligibility.
Again, you have to be honest with yourself and the coaches. If you’re ever in a bind regarding returning an injured student athlete to the field, you have to ask yourself, “Would I allow my own child to participate?”
When it comes to the administration—and I’m in that role myself now—again you have to think about the health of the student athlete, which is the most important thing, how it affects everything and everyone, such as financially, in regard to media outlets, or within other departments. You have to take a big-picture view of things, such as what could affect that student athlete after he or she graduates.
On the academic side, these are the ATs that are educating those who are the future of our profession, so there has to be great support and communication there. I want to make sure the up-and-coming ATs can keep the profession moving in the right direction.
If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you want to do well, there’s going to be pressure, and your success will be determined by how well you deal with it. If you keep the student athlete in mind when you consider the decisions you’re making, then there’s no pressure, especially when it comes to working with them every single day to get them back to or beyond where they should be.
There are some ATs who might feel pressure to get kids back on the field, but again, my advice is to think about the student athletes. If they’re ready to go, you shouldn’t have any qualms about motivating them to do the necessary work in order to return to play. As long as you feel comfortable with that—that the student athlete feels ready and you’ve done what you can do to get them ready—then putting them back out there shouldn’t be a question.
It also helps to be part of a trusted staff you can lean on for advice, if necessary. By believing in yourself—and making the student athlete believe in him or herself—will lessen the pressure.
In regard to the pressures I discussed earlier, one of the biggest issues involves independent medical care and medical autonomy.
There are ATs who are losing their jobs because new coaches come in ad want to make changes medically. The ATs are there for the student athletes. They are part of the athletic department, but when changes that affect the medical staff need to be addressed.
We’re also looking at how we can continue to provide great care for the student athletes with the change in AT degree programs.
Student athletes are still dying in sport. We have to revisit our training modules because by 2018, student athletes shouldn't be dying while training to play their favorite sports.
Those are our main issues, but we’re looking at a whole list of initiatives, including mental health. We want to develop leaders in AT departments by designing courses to educate the assistant ATs on how to grow into a head AT role.
Some student athletes today are more aware of their bodies than I was. I came from a day and age where you just went: even if you felt fair, you still wanted to go out on the field.
But there are some kids like that today. That’s why ATs want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep student athletes healthy, whether it’s movement screenings on the front end, or “prehab” hamstring exercises, or finding someone is predisposed to a particular condition and we can address it.
Medicine changes every single day. It’s important to stay on top of what is changing medically in terms of the care we’re providing. It’s continuing education on different rehabilitation exercises. It’s seeing the tools, analytics and products we use continue to evolve, such as the EKG units that collegiate ATs are putting in their athletic training rooms in order to get an accurate screening of their athletes.
Those things are important, and they weren’t available even three, four years ago. But remember, if your mindset is to grow, then you can grow.
You don’t always have to grow “up the ladder,” you also need to grow horizontally as well. That’s where I see the direction for athletic training: more tools for your toolbox.
That’s how you’re going to move forward in the industry and be on the cutting edge. If you’re not moving forward, you’re being passed up.