School of Communication senior Brianne Williams doesn’t serve, set, spike, or dig—but she’s still a valued member of the Northwestern University’s women’s volleyball team.
The human communication sciences major in the school’s Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Williams is a Sports Medicine Aide (SMA) for the team, a job that requires almost as much commitment as a spot on the team roster.
Williams has been an SMA through the Northwestern Athletics Department for one year, making room in her busy academic schedule to work with student athletes for ten to fifteen hours each week.
“The time commitment really depends on your team assignment and the time of year because off-seasons and conditioning seasons have varying demands,” Williams said. “While the off-season can be pretty calm, lots of SMAs spend up to 35 hours a week during their teams’ seasons.”
But that’s fine with Williams, since she wants to turn her experiences from both her communication sciences major and her time with student athletes into a career as a physical therapist.
Student aides help players stretch before practices and make sure the team has plenty of water and a fully stocked first-aid kit at the ready. Student aides get hands-on applying ice bags and bandages, and under supervision, learn how to treat, rehabilitate, and prevent sports injuries.
Williams was assigned to work under the direct supervision of a physical therapist/athletic trainer on staff, Lisa Krantz, MPT, ATC, the rehabilitation coordinator for the volleyball team.
“The women on the team really enjoy having Brianne with us this year,” Krantz said. “She is a big help to me with the day to day practice preparations. There is a lot that she has been able to learn about and experience that she can take with her as she pursues a career in physical therapy.”
“Since Brianne is directing her career path towards physical therapy, it was in her best interest to assign her to the volleyball athletic trainer who is also a physical therapist to gain knowledge and experience in that field,” said associate athletic trainer Danielle Colegrove, who coordinates the SMA program. Many of the other SMAs are pre-med, often majoring in biology. (Human communication science is also a pre-med major.)
Williams also worked with the volleyball team in their August pre-season camp; one August rotation is required of each SMA. The SMAs get a chance to observe and practice good “bedside” manner in all of their rotations, a skill Williams said is truly valuable.
“You get a chance to develop a professional relationship, even though you are working with someone your own age,” she said. “You are part of their healthcare-providing team. Learning how to interact in those situations is amazing. You think it’s easy, and then you find out how challenging it is.”
Williams has followed the case of one volleyball player who was injured on Williams’ first day as an SMA.
“Not only did I watch her get hurt, I watched her heal from that injury,” she said. “And now she comes in for therapy to prevent further injury.”
Williams hopes to enroll into a program to study physical therapy when she graduates in June.
Students interested in becoming a sports medicine aide for Northwestern teams can find more information at nusports.cstv.com/sportsmed/sma-program.html .