Athletic trainers are valued everywhere from the basketball court to the doctor's office. Not to be confused with fitness trainers or personal trainers, athletic trainers are considered health care workers and are sometimes the first people to care for an injured athlete on the scene.
Learning how to become an athletic trainer means working towards a career that keeps you close to the sports you love as you help athletes and individuals work and play more efficiently and safely. Use this guide to get the facts on athletic trainers and learn what you can do to train for this competitive career.
What is an Athletic Trainer and What Do They Do?
Athletic trainers work with athletes of all ages. These trained professionals practice their skill with high school students, professional sports players and athletes to:
- Treat and prevent injuries
- Rehabilitate muscle and bone
- Diagnose illnesses, disorders, and injuries
- Interact with medical professionals
Valued for their approach towards athletes of all ages, athletic trainers can be found in a range of environments. An increasing awareness of preventative medicine has popularized the job in doctor's offices and other health care facilities, while some school districts have begun to place more athletic trainers at high schools to work with student-athletes.
Athletic trainers can be found in a variety of educational, athletic and health care work environments. Here are the most popular employers for athletic trainers in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Colleges, universities and professional schools: 3,660 workers
- General medical and surgical hospitals: 2,660 workers
- Offices of other health practitioners: 2,210 workers
- Other amusement and recreation industries: 2,120 workers
- Elementary and secondary schools: 1,560 workers
Athletic trainers earn a healthy wage based on education and experience. The BLS reports that athletic trainers earned mean annual wages of $44,020 in 2009. That same year, trainers working in spectator sports earned $54,710. Trainers with the most years of experience and the greatest responsibility could potentially earn even more than the figures above.
What Are the Steps to Becoming an Athletic Trainer?
The BLS projects an estimated 6,000 new jobs for athletic trainers could enter the industry between 2008 and 2018, a growth of 37 percent. Learning how to become an athletic trainer can help get you in on the ground floor of this extensive growth.
A bachelor's degree is recommended for nearly all careers in the industry and the National Athletic Trainers' Association reports that almost 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master's degree or higher. Degree programs for athletic trainers offer a focused education related to key principles:
- Diagnosis and clinical evaluation
- Immediate care
- Treatment, rehabilitation and reconditioning
Beyond essential health care issues, trainers also learn professional development, ethics and business skills. The 4-year bachelor's degree is designed to give athletic trainers the fundamental skills they need to enter the workforce with confidence. In addition, courses are targeted to qualify students for the Board of Certification (BOC) exam.
Finding your first job as an athletic trainer usually requires starting from the bottom of the career ladder. Because the job is so competitive at the highest levels, new graduates shouldn't expect to immediately land a job with their favorite sports team. Instead, gain experience and work up the ranks as a trainer in hospitals, high schools and recreational sports centers. Once you've established your name and improved your skill, you can continue to advance your career.
How to Become a Great Athletic Trainer?
Anyone can learn how to become an athletic trainer in school. However, becoming a great athletic trainer means honing your natural skills over years of experience. Some of the greatest athletic trainers fit the same general profile:
- Good social and communication skills
- Ability to manage difficult situations and related stress
- Desire to help others
- An inquisitive nature
Athletic trainers are considered a liaison between athletes and doctors, and great trainers have the ability to communicate well with both groups. Some trainers may interact with doctors every day and a high level of health care knowledge will help the discussion. Great athletic trainers also double as great educators, as trainers must express to their clients how to treat current injuries and avoid new injuries in the future.
Flexibility and dependability are also hallmarks of great athletic trainers. As an athletic trainer working for a college or professional sports franchise, you might be required to:
- Change your schedule on short notice to attend a rescheduled game
- Work evenings and weekends during team competitions
- Adapt your schedule to meet multiple team schedules
Good athletic trainers can adapt their schedules to meet the needs of the clients they work for. At the highest level of sport, trainers are professional, knowledgeable, communicative and adaptable. Such a high level of skill can take years of practice as you work your way up the ranks.
Resources for Athletic Trainers