Limited practice opportunities, decreased coach‐player contact, shortened or lost season schedules, and “bubble” environments have all become the norm for athletic programs in the context of COVID‐19. Those programs able to compete do so with dramatically reduced fan attendance, if fans are allowed at all. Conferences and schools face financial shortfalls likely to impact budgets in currently unknown ways.
Athletics programs are facing constant uncertainty in their efforts to sustain some sort of safe, beneficial level of participation at every level, from youth to the pros.
At the core of this turmoil stands the Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA) and its certification process. Celebrating its 30‐year anniversary in 2021, the AEMA’s certification program has grown and adapted to the technological and safety needs of the profession and the athletes and coaches who equipment managers serve.
The National Football League (NFL) and the National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA) recently agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that requires the head equipment manager for each team to hold the AEMA certification and most clubs are requiring all full‐ time personnel handling protective gear to acquire the same level of education and skill. Many professional sports groups, colleges, high schools and youth programs also realize the need to staff trained and educated individuals in their programs to promote safety and protect their participants.
Understanding Certification In Equipment Management
Certification is defined as “a third‐party attestation of an individual’s level of knowledge or proficiency in an industry or profession, requiring ongoing education to remain up‐to‐ date on the advancements in the field, evidenced by earning a specific number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from approved activities and/or courses.”
These certifications are portable. They do not depend on one school’s or team’s definition of the job. The difference between certification and licensure is that a license is commonly issued by a state organization while a certification is issued by a professional organization. Obtaining certification may be required, but in many fields is voluntary. Also, the certification process may be more comprehensive than licensure. Though the processes to achieve certification and licensure are similar, they may also differ in legal status.
In 1991, the AEMA established its guidelines for the profession and in 1992 administered its first exam in Phoenix at its annual national convention. Currently, the AEMA lists over 850 Certified Equipment Managers across the United States, Canada and Japan. The AEMA is committed to providing the safest playing environment for every athlete through proper fitting protocols established for each piece of protective equipment and apparel.
The challenges of this process included:
- Establishing an education program that would provide an effective level of proficiency
- Establishing an ability to test that knowledge in an effective, consistent, and verifiable manner
- Establishing a reliable system of continuing education that allows members to stay abreast of new technologies, protocols, and the current research in the profession.
Producing A Definitive Certification Test
Partnering with Scantron, Inc. (formerly Castle Worldwide/Columbia Assessment Services), the AEMA conducted a role delineation study to determine the duties and skills of an equipment manager by surveying its entire membership. Through this study — which is still the foundation of the program — the AEMA identify who the equipment managers were, what they did, how much time they spent doing it, and the necessary skills needed to perform these duties.
The AEMA certification exam is 100 multiple‐choice questions, all based on the five domains identified in the role delineation study, including administration, safety and standards, operations, procurement and finances, and inventory control). The number of questions in these areas are directly correlated to the amount of time spent performing the tasks.
Scantron oversees the entire process by producing the test through questions provided by the AEMA Exam Committee, grading the tests, and continually updating the exam questions to reflect new information and topics. The exams are typically given two times a year, in early February in Raleigh, N.C., and in June at the annual AEMA National Convention.
The current qualifications to sit for the exam are:
- Must be a current member in good standing with the AEMA.
- Must be at least 21 years old.
- Must have one of the following:
- A four‐year college degree and two years of paid, non‐student full‐time employment,
- 1,400 hours (properly documented) student equipment manager hours and four‐year college degree. The certification is held until proof of graduation has been submitted.
After successfully completing the AEMA Certification Exam, certified members are required to earn 6.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) within every three‐ year window to maintain their certification. These standards require the certified member to remain involved in a continuous program of self‐improvement and education, which leads to a higher degree of job performance, efficiency, and formal recognition and respect for the profession.
The AEMA offers its membership many opportunities to assist them in preparing for the exam and in maintaining their certification status. The main source of information is the AEMA Certification Manual, now in its third edition of printing. Many hours of research and revision have gone into this “Bible of the Profession.” It remains a reference guide in themajorityofequipmentroomsacrossthenation.Available online from the AEMA website, this publication provides accepted practices and protocols for anyone involved with equipment/apparel fitting, storage, ordering and maintenance.
Another informative source used to share current topics and procedures are the AEMA Journals, published annually and free to all AEMA members. These online publications are written by members and selective authorities on topics of special interest or information on subject matter relevant to the profession at the time. Topics addressed in the past have been MRSA, concussions, time management, and helmet design. These in‐depth articles expound on material specific to certain sports or more generally to wider areas of study, and they enable the membership to remain knowledgeable about current trends and technology.
The Importance Of Hiring A Certified Equipment Manager
As a coach, athletic director or athletic administrator — at any level of athletic participation — you may ask yourself, “Why would I need a certified equipment manager when I can hire someone who can learn the job?”
Though COVID‐19 has created unnecessary hardships and challenges, it has shown that being unprepared and not doing things the right way can lead to more serious consequences and results. Moreover, It is important to create solid plans of action, hire educated staff in appropriate positions, maintain sound and consistent protocols, and react to emerging circumstances with agility and an open mind.
Injury liability should top any list of concerns derived for the purpose of evaluating those assigned to fit and maintain any type of protective equipment. If an organization does not hire a certified equipment manager to handle these duties, that organization has not executed “what a reasonable person” must and has not provided the safest environment possible. Fitting protocols, new product technologies, and the ever‐expanding performance and growth abilities of today’s athlete demand constant monitoring of how to best administer appropriate protocols.
A proper fit is the No. 1 requirement for every piece of equipment involved in protecting athletes. This cannot be achieved without the specific acquired knowledge and experience of a certified equipment manager. Manufacturers will confirm that their products will not protect an athlete as well as it is designed if the equipment is not sized and fitted correctly.
Attorneys regularly admit that the statement, “We didn’t have the money to hire a certified individual,” generally fails as a defense when an athlete is unfortunately injured while competing or practicing. The money to hire a certified individual is available; however, a decision was made to use that money for something different.
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Certified equipment managers lead with accountability, and must regularly answer to athletes, coaches and administrators. Hiring a certified equipment manager — someone who is knowledgeable and capable of maintaining accurate equipment availability and condition records — demonstrates a commitment to protecting an institution’s investment in itself and in sport.
Educating athletes on the care and maintenance of their protective equipment and apparel aids in the longevity of equipment while protecting its appearance and cosmetic appeal. Holding participants accountable for articles issued to them teaches responsibility and promotes positive maintenance practices that increase equipment longevity. The added attention to the condition of the equipment aids in establishing sound reconditioning practices required by most protective equipment manufactures to keep their products in proper working order.
As uncertainty shows no sign of slowing heading into 2020, coaches and athletic directors are being held accountable on how budgets are applied, especially with regard to how athletes are cared for. By having sound and fair purchasing procedures, establishing annual reconditioning protocols, and developing ethical management of your equipment operations, the entire athletic department benefits from having a certified equipment manager in charge.
This article was written by Sam Trusner, National Office Manager, Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA). Sam has been a certified member since 1991 and has served on many of the certification committees as District 5 Director (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada) and as AEMA Journal editor. He was also instrumental in the addition of the NFL Equipment Managers.
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