With health a top priority, Bulls bring in Swanson

As the Bulls prepare to open training camp in a season where expectations will be lofty, staying healthy will be as important to the team as almost any other factor when it comes to pursuing the ultimate goal.

Injuries have provided several substantial roadblocks in recent history for a team that has won more than 85 percent of its games with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer all in the lineup.

While playing at full strength is nothing short of a luxury in the NBA, now more than ever the Bulls have put a premium on its roster’s health, needs and goals.

With that in mind, the team hired Jen Swanson as its Director of Sports Performance over the offseason. Her first official day at the Berto Center was Aug. 26.

Swanson comes to the Bulls after five years at Athletes’ Performance in Los Angeles as the Performance Physical Therapy Manager, where she worked with a variety of athletes—including those from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB—with an array of circumstances.

“Jen brings an incredible set of credentials to the table as far as her education, knowledge, skill level, ability and experience in dealing with a number of pro athletes working at Athletes’ Performance, which is one of the top facilities in the country,” said Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. “She’s highly organized and possesses great communication skills. We feel like with the addition of Jen we’re covering a lot of bases and addressing a lot of different needs.”

Under Swanson, Forman’s hope is that the Bulls will possess a group which operates in conjunction to assess each player’s strengths and weaknesses as integrated training programs tailored specifically to each player’s individual needs and goals are put in place.

Jen Swanson works with Joakim Noah at the Berto Center

“It takes a lot for an athlete to give you their trust,” said Swanson. “It’s a matter of trying to understand where they’re coming from, what their issues are, and educating them as to what you’re finding and how you’re trying to help them. It’s an important bond that needs to be worked on continuously.”

“The training program will consist of a basketball and athlete specific prescription, integrating rehabilitation, performance training, skill development, nutrition and recovery into a customized individual plan to help athletes reach their peak performance,” explained Forman.

“Jen will be responsible for overseeing the athletic training and strength and conditioning departments, as well as massage therapy, chiropractic care, nutritional support, and any related auxiliary services,” Forman continued. “In addition to this, she will work to streamline communication with doctors, agents, and skill coaches to provide an optimal training environment for our athletes to succeed.”

Swanson’s top priority as she gets started is establishing a cohesive plan for the team’s strength coaches and athletic trainers so that all involved with a player’s wellbeing are working together.

“Communication is the key,” said Swanson. “It’s about getting to know people and understanding their goals and expectations, then trying to figure out a way so that everyone is on the same page for that.

“At the end of the day, everyone is here to try and make the players better,” Swanson continued. “We want to keep them healthy so they’re on the court and able to perform. So it is a matter of determining how we can do that as a team as opposed to individual entities.”

Swanson will also support the Bulls’ aim to be more proactive with injury prevention.

“It’s going to be integrated into everything we do,” explained Swanson. “The athletic trainers, even from assessment, and myself as well as a physical therapist will be looking at screenings and identifying any asymmetries, red flags or any issues that could increase risk for injury.

“Then within the training,” Swanson added, “whether it’s some of the manual therapy techniques they’re working on, mobility exercises within the strength programming, team warm-ups or recovery, all of it will be influenced and affected by those findings.”

Swanson’s interest in the field dates back to when she was 10 years old and wanted to become a sports medicine doctor. Years later, she worked for an orthopedic surgeon while attending college to get a firsthand look at the profession. While she valued the experience, she realized that more one-on-one, regular contact with athletes was a better fit rather than seeing them once every couple months as a doctor might.

During that same timeframe, Swanson, an accomplished track athlete at UC Davis while pursuing her degree in Exercise Science, was injured and spent a lot of time in the training room working with the athletic trainers on her rehab.

It was a combination of the two aforementioned events that made her realize the path she was destined to follow. Swanson went on to obtain her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Duke University and is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports and Orthopedics, as well as is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Prior to joining Athletes’ Performance, she completed a Sports Physical Therapy Residency at the University of Pittsburgh/CRS where she also spent time working with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was during her tenure at Athletes’ Performance that she worked with Derrick Rose as he rehabilitated from a torn ACL. When recently told that the Bulls had hired Swanson, Rose was reportedly thrilled with the decision.

Though Swanson is prevented from discussing her work with specific players, she stressed that with any athlete, establishing a relationship is crucial.

“It takes a lot for an athlete to give you their trust,” said Swanson. “It’s a matter of trying to understand where they’re coming from, what their issues are, and educating them as to what you’re finding and how you’re trying to help them. It’s an important bond that needs to be worked on continuously.”

Swanson has already met and worked with a handful of current players in her brief time with the team. As the days count down until training camp at the end of September, the rest of the roster will gather at the Berto Center in preparation and Swanson will get to know them too.

It’s a new chapter for Swanson, who couldn’t be more upbeat about what’s to come.

“Everything that I’ve done before has been working with athletes in their offseason,” said Swanson. “I’m really excited to be a part of a team setting—the ups, the downs, just getting in the trench and working, being a part of something great. I think this organization from top to bottom really is very unique and I’m honored to be a part of it.”