Win-Win for the Vikings as King Takes Holistic Approach to Student-Athlete Health Services

Last spring, King School student-athletes were invited to attend multiple nutrition workshops hosted by Bryan Snyder, Director of Team Nutrition for the National Football League’s Denver Broncos. It was an opportunity for King athletes to learn from a dedicated sports professional about essential and healthy nutritional habits, including pregame and prepractice fueling, hydration, forming positive sleeping habits, reducing inflammation, and what it truly means to stay healthy. It was also the chance to look back on just how far King School Athletics has come in developing and growing the student-athlete health services program at the school. 

Emma Jonsson and Katie Bryant

In the 156-year history of King School, the role of an athletic trainer, for example, has changed with the times. No longer is the position merely about taping ankles before a practice or game or supervising students on the field, gym, or weight room. Instead, placing an emphasis on the importance of preventing injuries, emphasizing mental and emotional health, and creating individual performance plans has allowed King to take a much more holistic approach to athletes’ health, wellness, and performance. 

“Knowing your athletes is very important when planning their health care needs,” said Emma Jonsson, who stepped into King’s newly created position of Interim Director of Student-Athlete Health Services. “Treating an athlete should always mean taking care of the whole person, not just the specific physical injury.

Joining Jonsson on the staff this year is Head Athletic Trainer Katie Bryant.

“By having two athletic trainers on campus full time,” Jonsson said, “we can conduct rehabilitation services throughout the day for student-athletes as well as develop health care policies and procedures based on the most relevant and current peer-reviewed research. It’s a way for us to further widen and innovate our health services program in support of our student-athletes at King.” 

Nate and Emily

This movement toward a new model and approach to athlete health services extends beyond the playing field. Student-athletes and coaches take part in character development, culture building, and leadership workshops led by King’s Director of Student-Athlete Leadership and Experience Emily Prince and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator for Athletics Nate Jean-Baptiste. To support this work, King also partners with several outside organizations, including Growing Leaders, the Janssen Sports Leadership Center, and the Positive Coaching Alliance. The goal for the Vikings is clear: to inform, educate, and provide well-rounded, comprehensive levels of service to allow students to grow as athletes and people. 

“Building that trust between us and the adolescents is so important,” said Jonsson, who spent the past 10 years at King as a life-skills teacher and athletic trainer. “During my years as a health care practitioner, I have found that daily practical application to knowledge is the best way to reinforce any message. It’s very important to keep an open dialogue without judgment or punishment in order to answer questions and vent concerns that may arise from the athletes.” 

Now that the 2021 fall season is underway, the King athletes once again have a leg up on the competition thanks to the comprehensive health services that are available to them. In the last two years, lead strength and conditioning coaches Bonnie Roberts and Eric Joyner ’10 have implemented and managed individual strength and conditioning plans for fall, winter, and spring athletes, and recently expanded training opportunities in the summer as well, that have both contributed to the development of individual athletes and the success of teams across each season. Joining Roberts this year is strength coach Ron Monroe.

Now King Athletics is excited to track similar individual performance plans to help elevate the performance of our athletes and allow them to gauge their improvements along the way. 

The goal is to create an opportunity to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of King athletes at the beginning of their seasons. Then the athletic team will design intervention programs in an effort to prevent injuries. 

“These interventions are often easy to implement by including them in warmups or general conditioning,” Jonsson said. “For example, there are well-known exercises inside warm-up routines that have a large impact on reducing ACL injuries. And who doesn’t want a stronger, faster, and healthier team? By tracking our athletes, we will also be able to see and document their evolution, improvements, and their overall development as athletes. One of the main reasons I work at a school like King is to be able to teach healthy habits for life to young people. Even if they don’t become professional athletes, they will still use their bodies in one way or another for the rest of their lives.” 

“If I can teach them how and why they should stretch their hamstrings, keep good upper-body posture, and show them the balanced importance of mental and physical health, my efforts will be a success,” Jonsson added. 

This holistic approach to athlete health services is fully aligned with King’s vision for Athletics and is reflected in the school’s strategic plan as a commitment to “strengthen the competitiveness and consistency of performance for our athletic programs, particularly in terms of student-athlete leadership, wellness, and commitment, while continuing to support and grow our pool of talented coaches, and raising school spirit and Viking Pride! We will also continue to help launch our most dedicated and successful athletes onward to careers in college and beyond.”

For the latest news, updates, and events with the Vikings, follow King Athletics on Instagram (@kingschool_athletics) and Twitter (@kingschoolct)

Emma Jonsson