What Does an Athletic Trainer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a trainer bandaging the foot of a soccer player, they are on a grassy field. Text reads:

Image by Alison Czinkota © The Balance 2019

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.

Athletic Trainer Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following:

  • Educate players on proper techniques in exercise, and in their sport, to avoid injury
  • Apply tape, bandages, and braces to athletes before practices and games to help avoid injury
  • Advise athletes on the correct use of equipment
  • Proved emergency care and first aid to athletes as necessary
  • Help injured athletes rehabilitate to full strength
  • Perform administrative tasks related to budgets, equipment purchases, injury and treatment reports, and more

While their jobs may involve working with anyone from a professional athlete to 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.

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.

Athletic Trainer Salary

An athletic trainer's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer.

  • Median Annual Salary: $46,630
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $69,530
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $30,740

Education Requirements & Qualifications

According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, the majority 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.

  • Education: For nearly all athletic trainer positions, at least 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 bio-mechanics.
  • Licensing or Certification: Most 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.
  • Experience: By working with teams, trainers learn the important communication skills of working with physicians, coaches, athletic directors, and athletes.

Athletic Trainer Skills & Competencies

  • Communication skills: 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.
  • Physical stamina: Trainers should be able to walk, run, and kneel as required to quickly treat injuries and work with athletes.
  • Interpersonal skills: Trainers must enjoy working in a team atmosphere and collaborating in some respect with physicians, patients, athletes, coaches, and parents.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of athletic trainers will grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average 7 percent for all occupations.

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.

Work Environment

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. Traveling to athletic events often is required.

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.

Work Schedule

If a trainer works with a specific team, their hours will vary with the ebb and flow of the off-season, 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 also work as a teacher, which during the season can require extensive hours in total (sometimes 60 to 70 a week).

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming athletic trainers might also consider the following careers, which are listed with their median salaries:

  • Coaches and scouts: $32,270
  • EMTs and paramedics: $33,380
  • Physical therapists: $86,850
  • Recreational therapists: $47,680