EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ, Jan. 11, 2007 -- New Jersey Nets athletic trainer Tim Walsh has more than 20 years of NBA experience. He is in his seventh season with the Nets after serving as the head athletic trainer for the Orlando Magic for four seasons. Before that, Walsh was an assistant athletic trainer for the Knicks for 13 seasons. NBA.com sat down with Walsh to discuss his job and how he helps the Nets players Stay in the Game.
NBA.com: What kind of degree do you need to have in order to be an athletic trainer?
There are programs throughout the country now that are strictly athletic training programs. Years ago, when I was in school, there were only a few. You would become certified through the internship program where you would just have to take specific courses, and then take the national test. But now, in order to be a certified athletic trainer, you have to go through one of these programs. There are a lot more programs in schools now than there were back when I was in school.
NBA.com: Once one graduates, how do you get into professional sports?
To work as an intern, perhaps. That's the way it seems to be right now. A lot of kids coming out of school have internships with professional teams. And then they turn into full-time jobs in a lot of places.
NBA.com: What are some of your day-to-day duties?
There's a few consistent things and then, there's some things that are inconsistent, depending on the injuries of course. The day starts usually pretty early. I come in and do my paperwork and make sure I'm up on my notes and daily logs, stuff like that. And then you just prepare the trainer's room for the day, make sure that the modalities that you need are ready, make sure the ice machine is filled, stuff like that. And then basically, about an hour and a half before practice, players start showing up, depending on how much time they need for treatment to get ready for practice.
NBA.com: What kinds of things are you doing during the game?
Most athletic trainers in the league, almost all of us, handle the fouls, the timeouts, things like that. That's pretty consistent throughout the league. You do that on the bench and then obviously, deal with any injuries as they come about. Pretty much, that's it during the game. You just hope that nothing happens injury-wise, and you can sit and enjoy the game.
NBA.com: Do you deal with injury prevention at all or is that the job of Rich Dalatri, the strength and conditioning coach?
Very much so. Both of us do. Together, we work hand in hand. I may start off by warming up the muscle that we need to try to make sure doesn't become a more severe problem, and treating it. And then, the player would maybe go right into the weight room and finish it off trying to prevent an injury from occurring by stretching or doing some other exercises in the weight room. We work hand in hand.
NBA.com: What's your favorite thing about your job?
Dealing with people. I don't know of any athletic trainer that isn't a people person. If they're not, they might struggle in their job. You're dealing with different personalities. It's not just 12 or 15 players. You have coaches and you have other people around too. It's all about people skills. To me, that's the fun part. You deal with all these different personalities and you get to know them, build friendships. That's the fun part of the job.
NBA.com: What's the biggest challenge in your job?
The biggest challenge is trying to keep 12 healthy bodies on the court every night. It changes from day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Things just appear out of nowhere sometimes. A guy falls down or hurts something. It can change your season around. It can change the game around. It can change a lot of things. But that's the biggest challenge: trying to get them back as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.
NBA.com: How do you deal with players that want to play despite an injury?
You need to be strong-willed about it. You need to educate them and explain why you strongly think they should not play. They need to be aware of the ramifications of what might happen if they do. When I really feel strongly, along with the doctor, that they shouldn't, I'll go to the coach or whomever I need to make sure that they don't play, if it's really that severe an injury.
NBA.com: Is it always a question of short-term vs. long-term when determining if a player should play? Do the circumstances change in the playoffs?
It may change a little bit, sure. But overall, it's to put them in the safest environment where they're not going to hurt themselves more. Surely, someone coming back from a mild ankle sprain ... if they feel they can do it, they may limp around a little bit, but if you're pretty confident that they're not gonna hurt themselves much more. You might allow them to do it in the playoffs, where earlier in the season, you might just push towards, "No, let's just let this go away and not have to deal with it the rest of the year." But if you're into the playoffs ... Richard Jefferson is a prime example. He had the will and he was able to play those last three or four games after severely spraining his ankle. The season was almost over at that point, but if that had happened earlier in the season, it surely would have made no sense for him to come back right away.
NBA.com: How has the role the trainer changed in the 20-plus years you've been in the NBA?
In 23 years, it has changed a lot. Back when I started, you didn't even have a weight room. Now, we have full-scale, beautiful weight rooms. The trainer's rooms are much nicer. The modalities that you use...
NBA.com: What kind of continuing education do you partake in?
Every year, the athletic trainers have meetings at the NBA combines. Part of the meetings, for two days, we have continuing ed. classes. People come in and give us courses on certain things from A to Z. From emergency care to rehab to whatever it may be.
NBA.com: What has been your favorite moment on the job?
Getting to the Finals for the first time here. That was really nice. I was the head trainer in Orlando and I left to come back home to New Jersey. And some people thought I was a little nuts, maybe. I thought I knew what I was doing and two years later, we're in the Finals. That was a very, very good feeling there. The New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. That was exciting.