I recently had the honor of traveling with US Soccer as the team physician to La Manga, Spain. Whenever the national teams travel to international camps or tournaments a physician is brought along to manage any medical issues that arise, in or out of play. This trip was unique in that two of the national teams were playing in tournaments in La Manga at the same time, the U18 and U20 women's national teams.
The role of the team physician on an international trip takes a bit a more into consideration than when serving a team either at home or on the road in the US. Fortunately US Soccer sends most of the needed medical supplies, including an excellent athletic trainer, for each team. Much like your regular doctor and most hospital systems stateside, we use an electronic medical record that is accessible via computer, laptop or smart phone. With this I was aware of the current injury and illness status of each player on the team as well as any past medical problems that could be an issue. Barring any major emergencies I was equipped to treat just about anything that came up. Upon arrival in Spain I met with the tournament medical director as well as team physicians for the other participating countries. This allowed me the chance to figure out logistics of hospital location, emergency action plans, and where/how to get any needed testing done (X-rays, MRI, etc.). I had to learn when an athlete could go to the public hospital versus the private hospital, and advice on which one I should try to send them to if needed. I also had to be prepared to communicate the medical status of athletes to both the coaches as well as the athlete's parents back home. Between the U18 team and the younger girls on the U20 team, many of the athletes were still minors.
I met the teams in Miami and we all traveled together to Madrid, on to Alicante and then by bus to La Manga. Once settled in the hotel we started the prep for the tournament, with some luggage a day or so behind. With two teams I split time between both and spent as much time at each teams' training sessions prior the tournament as possible. On hand in case any injuries arose, most of the time I was helping move equipment, hand out water bottles or 'shag' balls for the goal keepers' practice. Once the tournaments started I was fortunate in that each team played on the other teams off day. Evenings were spent either evaluating athletes in the athletic training room (a spare hotel room) with the athletic trainers, eating with the teams, staff meetings, or Face Time with family back home.
While the preparation and supplies at my disposal had me prepared as well as most days I spent in emergency departments, I was fortunate not to have any serious issues arise. While there I treated everything from jet lag (a big one) to ankle sprains to cuts and bruises to an athlete with strep throat. No one needed to be taken to a hospital and only two athletes needed to sit out games for medical reasons (both played great in the last two games of their tournaments though).
One of the great experiences of traveling internationally with a team is the extent of involvement the physician has with the rest of the staff. From the coaches to the athletic trainers to the team coordinators to the equipment managers, the staff works closer than any team I've covered stateside. I spent my days essentially 'on-call' 24/7, but made some lasting friendships and had an excellent professional experience. I'm happy to report the U20 US team went 2-0-1 tying the Swedish U23 team before going on to beat both England and Norway's U23 teams. The US U18 team similarly went 2-0-1, tying Denmark's U19 team before going on to beat both England and Norway's U19 teams. This was truly one of the highlights of my career having the opportunity to work with the US Women's national soccer teams, one of the most successful US programs in international competition over the past 25 years.
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