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Career Profile: Athletic Trainer


Coach Instructing Football Players on Field
Cavan Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

In nearly every preview of a sports team, optimistic coaches set one condition of success: avoiding injury.

An important part of the athletic trainer's job is to help prevent such injuries. Both in terms of team success and more importantly long-term safety, the athletic trainer plays a key role.

Not to be confused with fitness trainers who help individuals improve physical fitness levels, athletic trainers work with athletes in team and individual sports to prevent injuries, provide immediate treatment of injuries that occur during athletic contests, and help athletes rehabilitate from injuries.

If you enjoy working with people in an athletic setting, a career as an athletic trainer could be for you.


While their jobs may involve working with professional athletes or a high school soccer team, the basic role of the athletic trainer is the same: preventing and treating injuries of athletes.

The American Medical Association recognizes athletic trainers as allied health professionals who work to prevent, assess, treat, and rehab musculoskeletal injuries. Trainers have extensive knowledge of First Aid as they often are first on the scene to provide immediate treatment when injuries occur in athletic contests.

Once an athlete is injured, the trainer often works daily to help that athlete rehabilitate to full strength.

When coaches develop practices, they often work with trainers to advise athletes on the correct use of equipment. Trainers educate players on proper techniques in exercise, and in their sport, to avoid injury. Before practice and games, trainers apply tape, bandages, and braces to help athletes avoid injury.

While trainers work with coaches and athletes daily, they typically are under the supervision of a licensed physician. They may meet with that physician once or twice a week or daily, depending on the setting.

Besides the work in the field, trainers typically have administrative responsibilities, focusing on budgets, equipment purchases, and other related issues.

Getting Started

For nearly all athletic trainer positions, a bachelor’s degree is required. Most colleges and universities throughout North America offer accredited programs, and with the popularity of college athletics, there is plenty of opportunity for classroom and clinical experience.

Trainers typically study health-related courses like anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics. By working with teams, trainers learn the important communication skills of working with physicians, coaches, athletic directors, and athletes.

According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, 68% of trainers have a master’s or doctoral degree. In some instances, these degrees are required and in other instances they will help the individual with career advancement.

According to the Department of Labor, 46 states require trainers to be licensed or registered. For certification, trainers need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited athletic training program. In addition, a successful candidate for certification must pass a rigorous examination. To retain certification, credential holders must continue taking medical-related courses and adhere to the standards of practice.


According to the Department of Labor, the mean annual salary for an athletic trainer is $40,720, with the top 10% in the field making about $60,000 a year. In working with schools or health practitioners, athletic trainers typically receive outstanding benefits.

Trainers work at colleges and universities, recreation industries, hospitals, other health practitioners, and elementary and secondary schools. Trainers held about 17,000 jobs in 2006 and are found in every part of the country.

Growth Career

Athletic trainers are expected to be one of the top sports careers in terms of growth and opportunity. According to the Department of Labor, employment is expected to grow 24% from 2006-16, a faster-than-average growth compared to other occupations.

The Department of Labor said job growth will be concentrated in the health care industry, including hospitals and offices of health practitioners. Fitness and recreation sports centers also will provide many new jobs, as these establishments become more common and continue to need athletic trainers to care for their clients. Growth in positions with sports teams will be somewhat slower, however, as most professional sports clubs and colleges and universities already have complete athletic training staffs.

Trainers are required for more athletic competitions than ever before as more emphasis is being placed on safety through regulation. With athletic trainers in place, sports teams and groups often are able to save money on insurance costs.

Challenges and Benefits

The best athletic trainers take pride in working with athletes, coaches, and medical workers on a daily basis. This requires excellent communication skills and often serving as the go-between of information from a physician to the coach or athlete.

Depending on the sport, trainers may spend most of their time working indoors or outdoors. Typically, a lot of standing is required as they observe the long hours of practice required by teams and athletes in individual sports. Trainers are handy with a variety of medical machinery and equipment and are able to walk, run, and kneel as required to quickly treat injuries.

Traveling to athletic events often is required.

If a trainer works with a specific team, their hours will vary with the ebb and flow of the offseason, preseason, and regular season. Trainers working in hospitals and clinics may have a more regular schedule and often conduct outreach work at various locations.

It is not uncommon for trainers at the high school level to work as a teacher, which during the season can require extensive hours, perhaps 60 to 70 a week.

Besides the potential for long hours, the potential for emergency care can provide stress for the trainer. Quick decisions often are needed at such times. Also, there can be pressure to quickly get top athletes back from injury and on the playing field.

Trainers enjoy working in a team atmosphere and often experience job satisfaction in helping athletes perform at their best.

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