ATs at Work: Quinton Sawyer’s Journey to the NBA

Quinton Sawyer

Quinton Sawyer is entering his fifth season as the Associate Head Athletic Trainer with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, and a member of the NBATA (National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association).

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 2004, he spent two summers as an Athletic Trainer in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. With his initial experience being in the NFL, Quinton had never envisioned himself working in the NBA.

He gravitated towards the NBA once he realized how the small-sized team environment allowed him to cultivate meaningful relationships with patients on a personal level. His personal philosophy on healthcare and Athletic Training always placed a tremendous value on this personal connection.

As a graduate student certified Athletic Trainer, Quinton gained experience with both the Tar Heel men’s junior varsity and varsity basketball teams in 2005 and 2006. Then he moved to Southern Louisiana University for the following three years and served as Athletic Trainer for the Lion’s men’s basketball team before moving to the Division I Athletic Department at Campbell University to be the Head Athletic Trainer. 

After spending the next five years overseeing Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team, Quinton joined the Phoenix Suns as an Assistant Athletic Trainer and Sports Science Coordinator, starting his journey in the NBA.

AT Each Moment spoke with Quinton about what a day in the life of an NBA Associate Head Athletic Trainer looked like in addition to the opportunities and challenges he has faced throughout 17 years working with the sport of basketball as an Athletic Trainer

Into the NBA world: How basketball Athletic Trainers “make work work”

In the NBA world, there’s a lot of variety in your days and years whether it is pre-season, regular season, or post-season. Your work activities and schedule changes based on the time of year, the season, and the team’s needs. There are always players training, shooting, working out, or looking for treatment. In the offseason, I get to look at the draft prospects to check them out too. 

At the Charlotte Hornets, when players are in town training during the pre-season we get to the office between 7:00 – 8:00 am. Administrative duties and patient care make a full workload. 

We treat patients and evaluate draft prospects until noon while players work out in the weight room and on the court as the draft evaluation process goes on. Now, we need to incorporate COVID-19 testing into the process and ensure everyone is COVID-19 free.

Once the NBA season starts, our schedules become really simple with only three days of the week: practice day, game day, and travel day. There is no such thing as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. 

Photo by Markus Spiskee from Unsplash

Practice days are shorter days at work when we put a premium on spending time with family and loved ones, the people we miss when we are on the road traveling and working for long hours. 

Game days are long days at work when we get to the arena at around 7:00 am for shoot-around and treatments for any injured players.

The best parts of being an Athletic Trainer: the opportunities to build, develop, and cultivate relationships with the patients, players, coaches, peers, and coworkers.

The best parts of being an Athletic Trainer are the opportunities to build, develop, and cultivate relationships with the patients, players, coaches, peers, and coworkers.

There are a number of healthcare professions where you have limited interaction with your patients. A surgeon sees patients three or four times total during the course of that case. Therapists may see a patient three times a week for four weeks until they have been discharged.

Athletic Trainers get the opportunity to be intimately involved in a team atmosphere, seeing patients literally seven days a week for months, or sometimes even years at a time. 

We are really able to develop some meaningful, long-lasting relationships with the patients, with peers, coworkers, coaches, administrators, and other people you are in contact with on a regular basis.

Such opportunities allow skilled and talented Athletic Trainers to make a difference, lead the lives they want to lead while gaining professional, financial, and work-life balance satisfaction as a part of the Athletic Training community.

The challenging part: overcoming perceptions about Athletic Trainers

For decades, there have been hurdles in people’s perception of Athletic Training as a healthcare profession. 

The influx of tremendous talent in the profession and youthful exuberance of young professionals, however, will promisingly move that needle as people come to better understand who Athletic Trainers are and what we can do to provide additional protection and overall wellbeing to the patient populations we serve.

The biggest challenges facing our profession are ensuring bright young Athletic Trainers can continue to find a future within the profession and not have to go outside of the profession to feel they are impacting the patients in a meaningful way. 

We need to continue creating spaces and opportunities for young and talented Athletic Trainers to thrive within our profession.

In closing, what do you wish every Athletic Trainer knew? 

There are a number of opportunities in and out of traditional sports settings for Athletic Trainers to make a tremendous difference, to affect patient populations, and to impact overall healthcare. 

Be prepared for such opportunities as they present themselves. Understand your own work and your own value to the healthcare system at large. Never stop fighting for yourself and for our profession in those spaces where you find yourself as an effort to continue to advance our profession.