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Athletic Trainer Career Guide

What is an athletic trainer?

An athletic trainer is like a sports superhero, but instead of fighting crime, they fight injuries! They’re licensed health pros who are all about keeping athletes safe and healthy. Athletes need them to stay in top shape, recover quickly from injuries, and keep performing their best.

Duties and responsibilities

  • Injury experts: Athletic trainers are the first to jump into action when injuries happen. They figure out what’s wrong and make sure athletes get the care they need right away.
  • Rehab wizards: They create rehab programs to help athletes get back in the game. These trainers focus on teaching exercises and how to stay safe.
  • Prevention pros: They’re also big on stopping injuries before they happen. This means setting athletes up with things like tape, bandages, and braces, and doing health checks to spot risks.

Work environment

Athletic trainers can be found pretty much anywhere sports and physical activities are happening. Schools, colleges, pro sports teams, rehab centers, and even the military!

Their job is super hands-on and active, and they’re often right in the middle of the action – on practice fields, gyms, or game sidelines. While they spend time outside doing cool stuff, they also have office tasks like writing reports, planning athlete care, and chatting with team doctors and coaches.

Typical work hours

Athletic trainers’ schedules revolve around the athletes they’re supporting, meaning they could work early mornings, evenings, and weekends – whenever there are practices or games.

For trainers who work with sports teams, there’s also a bit of travel involved. But if they’re in a clinic or rehab center, their hours might be more like a regular 9-to-5 job. One thing’s for sure – during sports seasons, they’re super busy keeping athletes in top condition.

How to become an athletic trainer

Becoming an athletic trainer is like training for a marathon – it requires dedication, education, and practical experience. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you on the right track:

Step 1: Graduate high school

Your first step is to finish high school or get a GED. Focus on courses like biology, anatomy, physiology, and physical education, as they lay a solid foundation for your future studies.

Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree

Next up, get a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, kinesiology, or something similar. Make sure your program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). This coursework is a combo of classroom learning and hands-on clinical experience.

Step 3: Gain practical experience

Gaining real-world experience is key. You’ll get a lot of this in college through clinical rotations or internships. But don’t stop there – try volunteering or part-time work where you can work under experienced trainers.

Step 4: Get certified

After your degree, you must pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam. This is essential in most states and shows you’ve got the smarts and skills to be an athletic trainer.

Step 5: Get licensed

Most states require you to be licensed. This usually means having a relevant degree, passing the BOC exam, and keeping up with continuing education.

Step 6: Pursue advanced education (optional)

If you want to specialize or aim for higher positions, consider a master’s or even a doctoral degree in athletic training, sports medicine, or related fields.

Step 7: Build your resume

Start working! Whether at a clinic, school, college, or sports team, each job helps you sharpen your skills and beef up your resume.

Step 8: Keep learning

Being an athletic trainer means always learning. Stay up to date with the latest in the field through workshops, seminars, and courses. This not only keeps you informed but is also necessary to maintain your BOC certification.

How much do athletic trainers make?

Athletic trainer salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Factors such as specific sports or athletics niche, level of competition (i.e., high school, college, professional sports), and specific responsibilities and duties can greatly impact their level of compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Spectator Sports: $58,960
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools: $57,650
  • Hospitals: $55,430
  • Offices of Health Practitioners: $53,630
  • Secondary Schools: $50,510

Highest paying states

  • New Jersey: $63,400
  • California: $59,470
  • Connecticut: $59,320
  • Hawaii: $58,780
  • Massachusetts: $58,540

Browse athletic trainer salary data by market

Types of athletic trainers

  • Clinical athletic trainer: They’re like recovery coaches. They create therapy plans, apply treatments, and track patients’ progress. It’s all about helping people bounce back from injuries.
  • Educational institution athletic trainer: They keep student-athletes safe and healthy. They’re a big part of the school sports community, educating everyone involved in sports about wellness and safety.
  • Professional sports athletic trainer: Working with the pros, these trainers help elite athletes stay in peak shape, treat injuries, and plan therapies. They often travel with sports teams and are on the sidelines during games, ready to jump in with care if an athlete gets hurt.
  • Research athletic trainer: They study injury prevention, new treatment methods, and ways to boost sports performance. You’ll find them in universities, research labs, or with professional sports teams.
  • Industrial and commercial athletic trainer: They take athletic training to the workplace, aiming to prevent work-related injuries, improve ergonomics, and develop safety programs. 

Top skills for athletic trainers

  • Scientific knowledge and analytical skills: You need a solid understanding of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. You’ve got to be good at breaking down complex information and making sense of it.
  • Interpersonal and communication skills: You need to be good at explaining medical stuff in simple terms and building trust with athletes and their families. Your ability to connect with athletes on a personal level helps them feel comfortable and supported, which is a big part of their recovery.
  • Physical endurance and stamina: This job can be physically demanding; staying fit and active is part of the job. After all, you’re a role model for athletes in terms of maintaining physical health and fitness.
  • Emerging technology skills: As new gadgets and software keep popping up in sports training, knowing how to use them will make a huge difference. It’s all about making assessments more accurate and treatments more effective.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Every athlete is different, so you’ve got to be able to come up with treatment plans that are tailored to each person’s specific needs and injury situations.

Athletic trainer career path options

As an athletic trainer, you’ve got a world of possibilities when it comes to carving out your career path. Here’s a closer look at these options:

Specialization within athletic training

You might decide to specialize in rehab program coordination, injury prevention, or working with specific groups like pro athletes, students, or seniors. You could start as an assistant trainer, move up to lead trainer, and eventually manage a team of trainers.

Administrative jobs in athletic departments

If you’re into the management side, you could aim for positions like athletic director or department head at a school or sports organization. You’d oversee sports programs and wellness initiatives in these roles, managing everything from staff to budgets.

Academic and research opportunities

If you love sharing knowledge, becoming a university professor could be your thing. You’d get to teach future athletic trainers and shape the field. Engaging in research, presenting at conferences, and publishing studies can also be a major part of an academic career in athletic training.

Transitioning to allied health professions

Some trainers go on to become physical therapists, physician assistants, or occupational therapists. This does require more schooling, but your background in athletic training provides a strong foundation.

Here’s a look at what’s shaping the athletic training field:

  • Technology integration: Trainers are using technology to track and analyze athlete performance and health. From wearable devices to performance tracking apps, tech is becoming a big part of their toolkit.
  • Collaboration with healthcare professionals: Athletic trainers are teaming up more with dietitians, mental health experts, and other specialists. Holistic health care is a must.
  • Focus on safety and emergency care: There’s a big push for safer sports practices and policies to protect athletes, especially from concussions and other serious injuries. Trainers are more in demand for their ability to provide quick, critical care in emergencies.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, athletic trainer jobs are expected to grow by a whopping 17% through 2031, which is much faster than average. This growth stems from a heightened awareness of sports injuries, especially in younger athletes. Schools and youth leagues are increasingly seeking trainers.

Athletic trainer career tips

Stay in tune with the industry

Keep up with the latest treatment techniques, fitness tech, and rehab programs. The sports world moves fast, and you’ve got to move with it. Read professional publications, subscribe to industry periodicals, and join online forums focused on athletic training.

Build a strong network

Forge relationships with fellow trainers, physical therapists, orthopedic doctors, coaches, and athletes. Networking can lead to job opportunities and valuable insights. Consider joining groups like:

  • National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA)
  • Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey (ATSNJ)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Continue learning

Regularly attend webinars, workshops, and trainings to keep your skills sharp and your knowledge fresh. Look for courses in sports medicine, physiotherapy, or sports nutrition. Even online workshops can be a great resource.

Consider additional certifications

Getting certifications like the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) or Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) can really set you apart. These certifications show you’re serious about your career and can open doors to more advanced roles.

Master communication skills

Whether you’re explaining a treatment plan or motivating an athlete, being able to communicate effectively is key. Your words can help athletes stick to their rehab and feel supported. Good communication is a big part of their recovery journey.

Where the athletic trainer jobs are

Top employers

  • United States Sports Academy
  • Marathon Physical Therapy
  • US Fitness Holdings, LLC
  • Premier Health Partners
  • Professional Physical Therapy

Top states

  • Texas
  • California
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • New York

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • NATA’s Athletic Trainer Career Center
  • indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • SimplyHired


What educational background is needed for an athletic trainer?

A bachelor’s degree in athletic training or a related field from an accredited program is the minimum requirement. These programs educate future trainers in injury prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis and therapeutic intervention. Many trainers have a master’s degree, which can provide opportunities for specialization.

What professional certifications are beneficial for athletic trainers?

Certification through the BOC is generally required. That involves earning a degree from an accredited program, taking an exam, and ongoing continuing education. Some states also require licensure. Trainers who work with athletes with specific medical conditions, like diabetes, may also seek additional certifications.

What skills are essential for success as an athletic trainer?

Skills in injury assessment, treatment planning, and the ability to guide rehabilitation exercises are key. Trainers need good problem-solving and communication skills to work with patients and healthcare providers. They must be compassionate, patient, and decisive. Good physical stamina and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations are also important.

What are common challenges faced by athletic trainers?

They may need to respond to emergencies, make quick decisions about treatments, and work long, irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. They may also face the challenges of working with various personalities, from athletes to parents to healthcare teams.

Is there room for career progression in athletic training?

Yes. Trainers could move into administrative roles, clinical specialty areas, or progress to working with higher level sports teams. Some choose to obtain a doctorate and teach at the university level, or conduct research.

Where are athletic trainers most often employed?

They work at colleges, universities, and high schools. Professional sports organizations, healthcare facilities, and corporate settings also employ them. Some may work for sports medicine clinics, government organizations, or the military. Some even work independently, running their own businesses.

What is the job outlook for athletic trainers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for athletic trainers will grow much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is expected due to better recognition of sports-related injuries and an increasing amount of older people needing injury prevention guidance.

What are work hours like for an athletic trainer?

Their hours can be quite varied and may include evenings, weekends, and holidays. They might be required to travel frequently with athletic teams, work outdoors in varying weather conditions, and stand for prolonged periods. Flexibility and the ability to handle an unpredictable schedule is needed.

What is a day in the life of an athletic trainer like?

A typical day can involve developing and implementing injury prevention programs, diagnosing injuries, providing first aid, and designing rehabilitation programs for injured athletes. They might also communicate with physicians, coaches, and family members about an athlete’s condition and progress. Much of their day might be spent standing or moving around.

How does an athletic trainer interact with athletes?

Athletic trainers have a close relationship with athletes. They are often the first line of defense when injuries occur, providing immediate care, deciding if further medical treatment is necessary, and working with athletes during the rehabilitation process. They often communicate about injury prevention strategies and nutrition advice. Building trust with athletes is key.

Can athletic trainers have a specialty?

Yes, they can choose to focus on various specialty areas, including strength and conditioning, pediatrics, geriatrics, performing arts, military, occupational health, and more. Following a specific sport season or working with a type of athlete, like runners or swimmers, can also be considered a specialty.