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Downers Grove North athletic trainer Katie Dobersztyn uses psychology of injuries to help athletes

Downers Grove North's athletic trainer Katie Dobersztyn.  April 12, 2024.

When treating injured athletes, Katie Dobersztyn said she works to help an athlete gain control of their pain.

Every injury scenario is different and Dobersztyn tries to get an understanding of the psychological component, not just the physical injury.

Downers Grove North's athletic trainer Katie Dobersztyn.  April 12, 2024.

“Especially for athletes who have not been injured before, they don’t know how pain feels,” Dobersztyn said. “If I can get them to a place where they can verbalize those emotions and feelings, that’s important.

“You worry about an athlete in a shock scenario. I will talk an athlete through controlling their breathing, visualize what happened, telling me what happened, get them to slow their heart rate down.”

Dobersztyn is in her seventh school year as the athletic trainer at Downers Grove North High School. The Lyons Township graduate received her bachelor’s degree in athletic training at Millikin University. While she was there, she took a sports psychology elective that started her on her path.

She went on to earn a master’s degree with a concentration in exercise and sports psychology.

“Everything related to the psychology behind performance and the mental struggle, how performance works and how to get the best out of your preparation,” Dobersztyn said. “I was fortunate to find a master’s program that had that and I try to include a lot of that in my practice.”

How each individual responds to an injury is unique to the athlete.

“Anyone with issues related to anxiety or [who] are prone to panicking, those would be the first places I would look, moreso in potential emergency situations,” Dobersztyn said. “I’m trying to get the athlete back to their original focus. Some athletes know what happened right away – they felt themselves go down, felt a pop. Some athletes, it hurts so badly that they work themselves up into a panic scenario.”

Downers Grove North wrestling coach Chris McGrath said the school is fortunate to have Dobersztyn on staff in those situations.

“Like in any trauma scenario, whatever it is, the kids will look to how the adult in the room behaves,” McGrath said. “When a kid gets hurt, they know they’re hurt. They’re looking for an adult to make it calmer and she has that perfect blend of intensity but calm under pressure. She makes it easier for athletes to manage the crisis.”

That management, both physically and mentally, continues after the injury takes place.

“In the post-injury scenario, I visualize with the athlete how they want to get back, what the healing from an injury process looks like,” Dobersztyn said. “It’s very different for different athletes.”

That work with an athlete requires a relationship of trust that Dobersztyn looks to build when a student starts at Downers Grove North.

She said she likes meeting athletes in their freshman year when they come out for sports and said it’s easier when an athlete has an older sibling or friend who already went through the school. There definitely is a sense of intimidation when kids come in as freshmen, Dobersztyn said, but she works to get to know them at practices and camps.

“They start to recognize who we are and we start to build that trust,” she said. “I try to stress that with coaches that if little things pop up, if something doesn’t feel right, go find Katie. The last several years, kids will get to know us during less-intense sports and a lot of it is word of mouth.”

Dobersztyn loves to see how athletes grow from the beginning of freshman year to their senior year – and not just bigger and stronger.

“How their personalities develop, how they develop inside and outside of the sport, how that affects them from beginning to end,” she said. “I can see different personalities. The athlete in football might not be the same as during wrestling season. It’s building those relationships, watching them grow.

“My favorite thing is having them develop a sense of autonomy, where they continue to go on to play sports and they have that sense of awareness with their body, that it’s anything they can control. It’s about knowing how they feel and what they feel.”

Caring and understanding, fair but tough, McGrath said Dobersztyn is meant to be a trainer.

“In any profession when your unique skill set meets your knowledge meets your personality, when you have those three things come together, you have something special,” he said. “Katie loves sports. She loves medicine, she loves people and she is incredibly helpful and friendly. When you have those three things together, it makes the perfect trainer.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.