Sports trainers, also referred to as athletic trainers, certified sports medicine trainers, and certified sports medicine therapists, help amateur and professional athletes prevent injuries, give first aid when an injury occurs during a practice or event, and manage the rehabilitation programs and routines of injured athletes.
Athletic trainers often consult with physicians during all stages of athletic training to ensure that athletes under their care are physically capable of participating in competition. In addition, they specialize in health care administration, education, and counseling. There are approximately 15,000 athletic trainers employed in the United States.
History of Sports Trainer Career
Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Etienne Jules Marey all conducted experiments and studies involving motion and the human body, but it was the 19th-century French physiologist Marey whose devices to study human motion really advanced the field of biomechanics and sports medicine. In fact, both modern cinematography and sports medicine claim him as the father of their respective fields. Marey’s first contribution was the first force platform, a device that was able to visualize the forces between the foot and the floor. Marey’s pictures with the chronophotograph superimposed the stages of action onto a single photograph; in essence, giving form to motion and allowing scientists to study it frame by frame, motion by motion. By 1892, Marey had even made primitive motion pictures, but his cinematic efforts were quickly eclipsed by those by Louis and Auguste Lumiere.
Following both World Wars I and II, Marey’s and other scientists’ experiments with motion would combine with the need to heal and/or completely replace the limbs of war veterans. In order to provide an amputee with a prosthetic device that would come as close as possible to replicating the movement and functional value of a real limb, scientists and doctors began to work together to understand the range of motion and interrelationships peculiar to each part of the human body.
Mechanically, sports can be categorized according to the kinds of movements used. Each individual sport utilizes a unique combination of basic motions, including walking, running, jumping, kicking, and throwing. These basic motions have all been rigidly defined for scientific study so that injuries related to these motions can be better understood and treated. For example, sports that place heavy demands on one part of an athlete’s body may overload that part and produce an injury, such as tennis elbow and swimmer’s shoulder. Baseball, on the other hand, is a throwing sport, and certain injuries from overuse of the shoulder and elbow are expected. Athletes who play volleyball or golf also use some variation of the throwing motion and therefore also sustain injuries to their shoulders and elbows.
Today, sports trainers are part of the team of sports medicine professionals that treat the injuries of both the amateur and elite athlete. Like sports physicians, certified sports medicine therapists are responsible for preventing injuries as well as treating them, and they use their knowledge of the human body and its wide range of motions to discover new ways of reducing stress and damage from athletic activities. They work in high schools, secondary schools, colleges, and universities, and a smaller number work for professional teams. Many work in health clubs, sports medicine clinics, and other athletic health care settings. In 1990, the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized athletic training as an allied health profession.
The Job of Sports Trainers
Sports trainers help amateur and professional athletes prevent injuries through proper exercises and conditioning; provide immediate first-aid attention to injuries as they occur during a practice or event; and lead injured athletes safely through rehabilitation programs and routines. For the most part, sports trainers are not medical doctors, and are not allowed to conduct certain procedures or provide advanced types of medical care, such as prescribing or administering drugs. Some trainers, however, are trained physicians. If an individual is also trained as an osteopathic physician, for example, he or she is licensed as a medical doctor and can conduct more advanced procedures and techniques, including diagnosis, surgery, and the prescription of drugs.
In order to prevent injuries, sports trainers organize team physicals, making certain that each player is examined and evaluated by a physician prior to that athlete’s participation in the sport. Along with the team physician, they help to analyze each athlete’s overall readiness to play, fitness level, and known or existing weaknesses or injuries. When necessary, they recommend stretching, conditioning, and strengthening exercises to aid the athlete in preventing or exacerbating an injury. This may involve developing specific routines for individual athletes. Finally, athletic trainers work with coaches, and sometimes team physicians, to choose protective athletic equipment. Before games and practice, they often inspect the playing field, surface, or area for any flagrant or subtle risks of injury to the athlete.
Prior to a practice or competition, the athletic trainer may help an athlete conduct special stretching exercises or, as a preventive measure, he or she might tape, wrap, bandage, or brace knees, ankles, or other joints, and areas of the athlete’s body that might be at risk for injury. The trainer routinely treats cuts, scratches, and abrasions, among other minor injuries. He or she may tape, pad, or wrap injuries, and install face guards. When serious injuries do occur, whether in practice or during a competition, the athletic trainer’s role is to provide prompt and accurate first-aid treatment to the athlete to ensure that athlete’s full recovery. He or she is trained in emergency procedures and is prepared to provide emergency treatment for conditions such as shock, concussion, or bone fracture, stabilizing the athlete until they reach a hospital or trauma center. Often, the trainer will accompany the injured athlete to the hospital, making certain the team physician is still on hand to address the health concerns and needs of those athletes who are still competing.
Working in concert with the team physician and several other health professionals, athletic trainers often supervise the therapeutic rehabilitation of athletes under their care. They analyze the athlete’s injury and create individualized therapy routines. Sometimes, the trainer may advise the athlete to wear a protective brace or guard to minimize damage while the athlete is recuperating from an injury. Athletic trainers in charge of every level of athlete should be licensed to perform specific medical functions and operate certain devices and equipment.
Sports Trainer Career Requirements
If you have an interest in becoming a sports trainer, you’ve probably already become involved in the field during high school. Maybe you’re not an athlete but you work as a trainer or manager for one of your school teams. These are excellent ways to develop your interest in sports, learn about the skills that trainers must have, and develop the leadership abilities necessary for the job.
If you’re interested in this field, you should pay special attention to physical education classes and to high school subjects such as health and anatomy and physiology. Students with an interest in becoming athletic trainers will want to become certified in CPR and first aid.
Sports trainers usually earn a bachelor’s degree from a college or university that offers a program in athletic training that is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Athletic Training. Students then intern with a certified athletic trainer. Another option is to earn a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree in a related health field, such as osteopathy, and then intern with a certified athletic trainer. The number of hours you need to spend in both clinical study and in the internship phase will vary, depending on the program you select and the professional organization that you decide to join.
Most accredited programs in athletic training include course work in the prevention and evaluation of athletic injuries and illnesses, first aid and emergency care, therapeutic exercises, therapeutic modalities, administration of athletic training programs, human anatomy, human physiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, psychology, and personal and community health.
Certification or Licensing
As mentioned earlier, athletic trainers in charge of every level of athlete should be licensed to perform specific medical functions and operate certain devices and equipment. Different membership organizations and their respective certifying bodies have different eligibility requirements; it is up to you to decide which organization best characterizes your ultimate goal.
For example, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) requires that each member have a bachelor’s degree (in any field), be either a graduate of an accredited program in athletic training (with 800 clinical hours) or complete an internship (with 1,500 clinical hours), and pass a certification exam consisting of three sections— written, simulation, and oral practical.
As of 2005, 43 states require some form of certification, licensure, or registration for athletic trainers. For more information, check with your state’s regulatory agency in the state in which you would like to practice for more information.
Workers in this field need an understanding of human anatomy and physiology, both in terms of physical capabilities and injury treatment and prevention. You should not be squeamish when it comes to blood, broken bones, or other wounds. Athletes do get hurt, and a trainer who is unable to cope well with this aspect of sports may have a difficult time succeeding in the career. The ability and knowledge to handle medical emergencies is especially important for certified athletic trainers, whose work focuses on injury prevention and treatment.
Exploring Sports Trainer Career
Most trainers, like other professionals who work with athletes, were first drawn to sports as participants. High school and college students can gain valuable experience by actively participating in a sport. Such experience lends a prospective trainer added insight into the injuries typical of a given sport, as well as the compassion and empathy necessary to comfort an injured athlete who is forced to sit out a game. Most teams need help with everything from equipment to statistics, so plenty of opportunities exist to explore a variety of sports-related positions. If you are certain about becoming an athletic trainer, you can often work with and learn beside a trainer or team physician, learning beside a professional. This type of experience will come in handy later, when you are looking for an internship or a job; successful candidates are usually those with the most experience and on-the-job training.
Sports trainers are employed by professional and amateur sports teams, private sports organizations, sports facilities, educational institutions, and by individual athletes. Other possible athletic-training employment opportunities can be found in corporate health programs, health clubs, clinical and industrial health care programs, and athletic training curriculum programs.
Athletic trainers, regardless of the professional organization they join, are usually required to complete a period of training with a certified athletic trainer or sports medicine therapist. These internships provide students with the foundation for future networking possibilities. Many students find full-time jobs with the teams, organizations, or school districts with which they interned. At the very least, these internships offer students the chance to make valuable contacts and gain valuable on-the-job experience.
Most accredited programs in athletic training also have job placement departments that host recruitment seminars with major organizations, provide career counseling services, and put students in contact with prospective employers.
Finally, one of the benefits to belonging to a professional organization is that these associations publish newsletters and maintain Web sites, both of which list job openings. Some organizations even offer job hotlines to their members. Through these media, as well as through meetings, seminars, and continuing education, students and trainers can make new contacts that will help them locate work and add to their base of knowledge. NATA, for example, boasts the most comprehensive job referral service in the United States for athletic trainers, listing job openings in all athletic training settings and locations.
Acquiring additional training and education is the most common way of advancing in the field of sports training. Those trainers who have spent years working in the field and who update their skills each year by taking continuing education courses, sometimes even returning to school for an advanced degree, will be among the first to receive promotions.
Management responsibilities are the other way in which athletic trainers can advance in their field. Large universities often employ several trainers to serve the many different teams, with one trainer acting as the head trainer, sometimes also called the director of sports medicine. This individual coordinates the daily activities and responsibilities of the other trainers and works closely with the coaches of the school’s various teams to ensure that all the demands are being met. Most often, trainers advance by working for several years at one school and then move on to another school when an opening is announced that will mean greater responsibilities and benefits.
Earnings vary depending on the level of athletics in which the trainer is involved, the trainer’s education and credentials, and the number and type of his or her responsibilities. Those considering a career as an athletic trainer should keep all aspects of the job and salary in perspective; the slight increase in salary of a trainer working for a college team might be offset by the higher stress levels and longer hours away from home. Trainers who work with professional athletes are away from home a great deal, including evenings, weekends, and holidays.
According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, salaries for athletic trainers in schools range from $25,000 to $35,000. With experience and a master’s degree, college trainers can earn up to $45,000 to $60,000 per year. Athletic trainers who work for professional sports teams earn salaries ranging from $60,000 to $125,000.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that athletic trainers earned median salaries of $34,260 in 2005. The highest 10 percent earned more than $54,640, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,240.
Athletes train year round and so do the sports trainers who supervise their conditioning and rehabilitation programs. Depending upon the level and size of an athletic program, trainers may work with athletes in one or more sports. Sports trainers who work in high schools often act as the trainer for several, or all, of the athletic teams. A lot also depends on the school’s budgetary restrictions. Generally speaking, though, most schools have a separate trainer for men’s and women’s sports. Trainers in professional sports work only in one sport and for one team.
Most of the trainer’s time is spent in the school’s athletic facility, either in preparation for work or in conditioning or rehab sessions. Athletic trainers are on a schedule similar to that of their athletes; they go to practices, schedule weight and rehab sessions, and attend games. They are expected to travel when and where the team travels.
Sports Trainer Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that athletic trainers will experience faster than average job growth throughout 2014. The increasing number of amateur and school sports teams accounts for some of this growth, as does the public’ increasing interest in health and fitness. Competition for the more glamorous jobs is tough; positions with professional athletes and teams are extremely difficult to find and those working in them usually have years and years of experience. More opportunities exist for certified athletic trainers who work with high school athletes, especially if trainers have other skills that make them more employable. For example, the athletic trainer wishing to work with high school athletes who also can teach biology, math, physical education, or other school subjects most likely will find a position sooner than the candidate with only a background in athletic training. The reasoning is simple: With school budgets being cut back, those individuals who perform double-duty will be more attractive to school boards looking to cut costs.
Positions at the college and university level offer the athletic trainer greater stability, with little turnover. Competition for these spots is also tough, however, and many schools are now requiring candidates to have a master’s degree in order to be considered.