Collegiate Athletic Trainers' Experiences Implementing Return to Sports Policies and Procedures During COVID-19: A Qualitative Research Study

J Athl Train. 2022 Jun 21. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-0004.22. Online ahead of print.


Context: Athletic trainers were critical personnel in the development of policies and procedures for safe return to campus and resumption of sport during the 2021-21 academic year. Policies focused on preventing potential spread, as well as screening, testing, and management of cases, however, it is unknown what aspects of implementation were successful or more challenging.

Objective: To determine successes and challenges in the implementation of their return-to- sport policies and procedures during the 2020-2021 academic year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design: Qualitative.

Setting: NCAA Division I, II, and III.

Patients or other participants: 27 athletic trainers (female N=9, 33.3%, mean age: 48.5±9.8 20 years, mean years of experience: 25.0±10.5 years), who were in positions of leadership or who 21 were actively involved in developing and then implementing COVID-19 return to sport policies 22 and procedures completed Zoom interviews.

Data collection and analysis: Semi-structured Zoom interviews were audio and video recorded and later transcribed. Data were analyzed by a team of four experienced researchers using the consensual qualitative research approach. Field notes, intercoder reliability, and multiple analyst triangulation were used to establish data credibility.

Results: Emerging themes included: implementation of public health interventions, inter-professional collaboration, and advancing the profession of athletic training. Participants described establishing and strengthening collaborations with other healthcare professionals as well as key stakeholders on campus as a positive outcome of the pandemic, but variation in policies between institutions and states made policy communication and enforcement more challenging.

Conclusions: ATs played a pivotal role in policy development, communication, and enforcement. Overall participants took pride in serving as healthcare leaders for their universities and opening the eyes of colleagues to the breadth of the athletic training skillsets.

Keywords: consensual qualitative approach; coronavirus; public health.