Matt Schmidt recalls his first job as a college athletic trainer and having to deal with a baseball team that had seven players miss time with pulled hamstrings in the same season.
“I was sick of hamstring injuries,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to stop this. I wanted to figure out how not to get hurt.”
Schmidt wasn’t going to sit in the training room and wait for injured athletes to come to him. He started working with strength and conditioning coaches and others, looking at how to prevent injuries and improve performance.
That’s been Schmidt’s philosophy ever since. It’s a proactive approach that he’s used over the last four years with the Minnesota State hockey teams and one he’s now taking to the Mavericks’ entire athletic department.
Schmidt recently was named the Director of Maverick Health & Performance and the university’s head athletic trainer. He was interim head athletic trainer last year, but the position now encompasses more than just injury care.
Schmidt’s duties include promoting “collaboration between several disciplines … related to health, wellness and performance,” accoring to a university press release.
Those disciplines include athletic training, sports performance, team physicians, medical consultants, sports psychology, mental health, biomechanics and nutrition.”
Although he doesn’t oversee all of the disciplines, his job is to bring them out of separate silos and mesh them together.
“It’s the idea of what we can do to give athletes their best chance to succeed in general,” Schmidt said. “And I don’t just say succeed athletically, I say succeed period. How can we do that?”
Schmidt, who will continue to serve as the men’s hockey team’s athletic trainer, quoted that team’s coach, Mike Hastings, to describe his new charge:
“As coach Hastings says, ‘Let’s take away all the excuses,’” he said. “Strength training, athletic training, let’s utilize everything … Everyone is on one big team. We’re all trying to do our best to care for all the athletes.”
Over the last four years, Schmidt has worked closely with Tom Inkrott, MSU’s strength and conditioning director, and has encouraged other athletic trainers and graduate assistants working to become them to do the same.
“He’s a relationship guy,” MSU athletic director Kevin Buisman said. “He has an ability to bring everybody together without stepping on anybody’s toes and without micromanaging things. It’s a contemporary approach we found intriguing.”
Hastings said Schmidt’s approach also empowers the athletes.
“Everything is intertwined — nutrition, hydration, preparation for practice and games, postgame and post-practice recovery,” Hastings said. “Matt does a very good job at educating our athletes on what to do, how to do it and why they’re doing it. He’s done a great job and he’s built trust through communication, execution and dedication.”
Schmidt spent 11 years as the head athletic trainer at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, before moving on to the Sioux City Musketeers junior hockey team for two years. He came to Minnesota State in the fall of 2015 to work with the Mavericks hockey teams.
Last winter, Schmidt was part of Team USA’s support staff at the World Junior Championships. Hastings was the U.S. head coach. He said that, even in their limited time dealing with Schmidt, players from that team sung his praises, just as MSU athletes have done.
“He’s built that trust over a very short period of time across campus,” Hastings said. “He’s a doer. He gets in there and does the heavy lifting. … And he’s always in search of ways to get better.”
Schmidt will oversee a transitioning athletic training department at Minnesota State, one that used to rely heavily on graduate assistants but can no longer due to changes in certification.
A partnership announced in February between Minnesota State and Mankato’s Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic and Sanford Health will provide $1.31 million in funding and $425,000 in physician coverage and service over a five-year span.
Buisman said the funding will allow the athletic department to replace five graduate-assistant positions at 20 hours per week with five full-time, 10-month positions. The department currently has four full-time athletic trainers: Schmidt, Courtney Strauss, Chad Brinkman and Cailey Priem.
“It’s certainly an area of critical importance, keeping student-athletes healthy and put in the best possible position to be successful,” Buisman said.
Said Schmidt: “I want to make people better at their sport and hurt less. Everybody’s happy when they’re not getting hurt.”
For more college hockey coverage, read Shane Frederick’s Puckato blog and follow him on Twitter @puckato.