【Interview】Yoshi Sato|Athletic Trainer|University of Louisville

Have your heard of an “athletic trainer”, a job which requires national certification? While the term “trainer” might be familiar to you, unlike trainers in Japanese lacrosse teams, athletic trainers need more comprehensive, specialized skills in order to be certified and are professionals in sports medicine.

In the United States, a country well-known for it’s high level of athletics, it is very difficult to work as an athletic trainer, and only one in hundreds of applicants get to work as an athletic trainer. I would like to introduce Yoshi Saito, who has been accepted to this very competitive job of athletic trainer and works at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, in the United States.

-Yoshi’s Personal History
Yoshi is Japanese born and raised. He played baseball in Japan and went to study in the U.S. at the age of 18. Since he was not able to speak English, he began his life in the U.S. studying English. Later, he was accepted to the Michigan state university and studied athletic training. He currently works as an athletic trainer at University of Louisville.

-Please tell me about your personal history.

I was born in Japan and until high school I was an ordinary student on a baseball team at a Japanese public school in Tokyo. However, I decided to study in the U.S. for college since I was inspired by my sister who was already in the U.S. back then. My parents helped convinced me to study there, too.
In the U.S., after studying English in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program and liberal arts at Eastern Michigan University for two years, I transferred to Lansing Community College and then to Michigan state university, where I studied athletic training. After graduating in 2016, I worked as an athletic trainer for the baseball team at the graduate school of the University of Toledo in Ohio while learning Exercise Science. Later, I did an intern as an athletic trainer for baseball at the University of Louisville. Since last September, I have been working as an assistant athletic trainer for the women’s lacrosse team at this university.

-What inspired to become an athletic trainer?

When I was in the ESL program right after moving to the US and was thinking about my future, I remembered the fact that I was once an athlete and my experience supporting my injured friend on my high school baseball team. I felt that I was suited for jobs which support athletes and decided to become an athletic trainer.

*ESL(English as a Second Language) is a program for non-native English speakers to learn English.

-Please tell us more about athletic training.

The certification for athletic trainer, which is called NATA, is known the highest level of certification in the world as a trainer and is nationally recognized in the entire country of the United States. Although an athletic training certificate in Japan can be attained privately, NATA is a government certification and those without this certification cannot be athletic trainers in the United States.

“Athletic trainers are medical workers who treat or provide healthcare services while getting help and orders from doctors and following the educational training, state laws and a set of rules. As a member of a medical team, services of athletic trainers include prevention of physical injuries, improvement in overall health, health education, treatment in emergencies, health examinations, intervention in medical treatment and rehabilitation for injuries.” -cited from JATO official website

To be more specific, the job includes:
-First-aid treatment and diagnosis for injured athletes.
(In Japan, only doctors are permitted to diagnose injuries and trainers are not allowed to make a diagnosis.)
-Being coordinators for athletes, coaches, and guardians of the athletes
-Rehabilitation. Just like physical therapists in Japan, athletic trainers can carry out any kind of rehabilitation and determine the patients’ recovery.
(In Japan, rehabilitation is done at a facility in a hospital and doctors decide whether the patients have recovered.)
-Educating athletes for injury prevention and safety.
-Management of budgets as well as items related to athletic training
-Taping athletes before practice. Athletic trainers take care of jobs related to injury prevention.

The role of athletic trainers is to support athletes and those involved in physical activities.

-Do athletic trainers only work for sports related fields?

Many people believe that athletic training is only for sports related fields, but there are athletic trainers working for many other fields which involve physical activities. Not only are there athletic trainers in college sports teams and professional teams, but there are also athletic trainers for dance shows in amusement parks and, surprisingly, for workers picking up heavy objects in warehouses.
Since this job is nationally certified, athletic trainers can work for various fields. One thing to note, however, is that even though it is a job with government certification, places of occupation vary by state laws. For instance, some states allow an athletic trainer to carry out acupuncture while some states don’t. In addition to NATA, other certifications are needed to do certain things depending on which state one works in. Don’t you think it is very American how laws differ between States?

-Please tell us what your workplace, University of Louisville, is like.

University of Louisville is in Kentucky, which is in the northeast inland region of the United States. It is where Kentucky Fried Chicken is from and even the grave site of Colonel Sanders!
The University of Louisville is very large with 23,000 students coming from all over the world (100 countries). For athletics, this university is at the national level in basketball, football, baseball, soccer, and track and field. A well-known Japanese student who goes here is Norika Imano, an accomplished female basketball player, and I talk to her a lot.

-In terms of job positions at school, what is the position of athletic trainers at the University of Louisville?

Athletic trainers are hired by the school and the school decides who works for which sports teams. Of course the school takes into account the opinions of the teams, but it is mostly the school who takes care of it.
There is a department of sports medicine, and I work in the position of “assistant athletic trainer,” which is one of various positions in this department. While the name “assistant athletic trainer” makes it sound like there should be a “head trainer” or “athletic trainer” in this department, I am actually the only athletic trainer.

-Please tell us about your impression of lacrosse as you work as an athletic trainer on a lacrosse team.

I did an intern for a baseball team as I grew up playing baseball, but I was luckily able to attain a job position for women’s lacrosse team which happened to be open at the time. While baseball players tend to have injuries in the upper body, lacrosse injuries tend to be at the lower body, and it is very exciting to be able to learn something different.
Women’s lacrosse has a lot of sudden movements, such as stopping and changing body angles, so I feel that there is a lot of burden on lower body. As a result, I have an impression that women’s lacrosse players tend to have sprains or knee injuries. There is always someone with a knee injury, and I think lacrosse is a very tough sport.

-What does your day as an athletic trainer look like?

I mostly do the same thing as the team. I am always with the team, even at morning practices, late night practices and in the training room. I also work with the team at meetings as well. We never know when an athletes’ condition might worsen.

For games, University of Louisville has travelled to Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina by plane this season, and I have travelled with them. It is common to fly or take a long bus ride for games in college sports teams in the U.S.

Here is the schedule for college sports games at the University of Louisville:

-In both the United States and Japan, there is a movement for taking care of injuries and concussion in lacrosse. How do lacrosse teams in the U.S. take care of these things during games or practices?

As I have mentioned before, athletic trainers are always with the team. We are responsible for physical conditions of athletes and are always aware of their conditions. During games and practices, we are prepared to do necessary treatment when such injuries happen.
Even if a collision between players may seem light, it is possible that they have concussion, and we make very careful decisions when it comes to this.
If there is a possibility of concussion, I would never let that athlete go to practice. Regardless of what the coaches say, I have the right to make a decision about the player’s safety.
This is the same for injuries, and athletic trainers also decide if athletes who were injured can return to practice and match play.
Players have a future life after an athletic career, and we do not want them to suffer permanent damage.

-You have mentioned that it is an athletic trainers’ job to carry out rehabilitation for athletes, but how do you support their rehab?

The severity and body parts of injuries differ for all athletes, so athletic trainer would create a tailored treatment regime for an individual player. It is important to maintain their skills as a player, so when it comes to such skills we talk to coaches to decide what to do for rehabilitation.
For instance, if coach wants a player to learn a certain movement, athletic trainers would create training regime which allows the player to do parts of the movement given his or her condition. Since I also help rehabilitation for lacrosse players, I sometimes play lacrosse. Although I am a beginner lacrosse player, I would like to get used to the stick and improve.

-Lastly, please give us a message for people involved in Japanese lacrosse.

Lacrosse is such a fun sport. I was involved in lacrosse for the first time in the U.S. and I am one of the people who has learned of great amount of things about lacrosse. I would love to be able to know you and people involved in Japanese lacrosse. It would be nice if you could support the women’s lacrosse team at the University of Louisville. Even though we have not been able to be involved in lacrosse due to the COVID-19 pandemic right now, I look forward to seeing you one day.

Interview: Hiyori Onodera
Translate: Asaka Mori (Pomona College- Sophomore)