Tips for AT Students to Foster Resilience

May 9, 2014 by Todd Christman

By Jeremy Hawkins, PhD, ATC, ATP Director, Colorado Mesa University

The life of an athletic training student can often be a stressful one, especially at the end of a semester. This time means that deadlines are on the horizon for semester projects, assignments for a variety of courses are coming due, and finals are around the corner. These academic responsibilities become only one part of the equation for students as they progress. For juniors, looking towards summer internships, taking the GRE, and figuring out graduate schools could become a factor. And for seniors, there is the possibility of taking the Board of Certification, Inc. exam and finalizing a graduate school. Regardless of your stressors, the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” does apply. With that thought in mind, I would like to talk a bit about resilience.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides two definitions of resilience that I think bare noting:

1.    The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
2.    The ability of something to return to its original shape after is has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

I like these definitions because they encapsulate much of what athletic training students encounter on a daily basis. Many of us have probably walked out of an exam feeling as though something bad just happened, but became strong, healthy and successful again. Or, have felt pulled in a number of different directions, stretched beyond what we felt as though we could handle, pressed to be better than we thought we were and bent over backwards to do our best to accommodate the various demands on our time. To say it another way, you have shown your resilience. But sometimes, it is hard to remember we have done this before when the challenges of life are staring us in the face right now. For those of you who might find yourself in that camp, you might find the following habits of highly resilient people helpful (see for further insights). I have added in the athletic training student examples for clarity.

1.    They fully experience both positive and negative emotions. In reality, some things are really tough. We may not pass a really important exam (e.g., BOC) or might be struggling with the clinical side of the athletic training program. Although those things are at the forefront of our thoughts, we also have many other things for which we are grateful. Putting both things together and dealing with them accordingly helps build resilience.

2.    They’re realistically optimistic. A realistic optimist is one who “combines the positive outlook of optimists with the critical thinking of pessimists.”  We all probably know someone who is optimistic and someone else who is pessimistic. Putting the best qualities of these two people together is the key. For example, thinking you will pass the BOC exam (or any other exam for that matter) without critically thinking about what you need to do to pass it will do you no good whatsoever.   

3.    They “reject rejection.”  As mentioned before, some things are really tough. How you respond to those tough times is the key. Are you going to allow a poor performance to keep you at the poor performance level, or are you going to learn from it and rise above it?  Rising above it, leads to resilience.

4.    They build strong support systems. I had a parent and her child in my office earlier today. After discussing the AT program and the approach we take to helping athletic training students become athletic trainers, the mother observed that the athletic training students are successful in part because of the cohort nature of their education. I would have to agree. Be there for someone else, and you will find they will be there for you.

5.    They notice (and appreciate) the little, positive things.  Even though some things are really tough, there is still a lot of good around us. Barbara Fredrickson talks about a “positivity ratio” in her book Positivity. Some have begun to question her three-to-one ratio of positive to negative experiences, but the key is to “notice and appreciate the little joys and victories.” Instead of solely focusing on what you missed on an exam or an evaluation, pay attention to what you got right and build upon it. You are better than you probably think you are.

6.    They seek out opportunities for growth and learning. I think this is one of the easiest to apply to athletic training, but one of the hardest for athletic training students to do. Don’t be wall flowers, standing back while someone else practices athletic training. Jump in there with both feet. Ask to do every evaluation you can without being afraid that you will mess up or miss something. Your preceptor is there to intervene as needed.  If they are doing something you are unfamiliar with, ask them what they are doing and why they are doing it. Doing these things will put you in more learning experiences, experiences you can learn from and build upon.

7.    They’re endlessly grateful. Many refer to athletic training as a thankless profession, one that works behind the scenes without a lot of fanfare. Just because others may not appear to be overly grateful for what we do, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t show gratitude. Grateful people tend to be happier people. Thank your preceptors for the experiences they provide you and see if that doesn’t lead to more such experiences. Thank your professors for preparing for class and see if that doesn’t help them prepare better for class. A simple thank you goes a long way.

Resilience is not a new term. Other terms or phrases have encapsulated resiliency for years. Examples include overcoming adversity, bouncing back, persevering and getting back in the saddle. Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best: “It is the courage to continue that counts.” So, as you face the challenges that confront you now, do so with resilience. There are brighter days ahead. 

Posted by Todd Christman on behalf of blog author Jeremy Hawkins, PhD, ATC (