What do Athletic Trainers Do

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers help prevent and treat injuries for people of all ages. Their patients and clients include everyone from professional athletes to industrial workers. Recognized by the American Medical Association as allied health professionals, athletic trainers specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of muscle and bone injuries and illnesses. Athletic trainers, as one of the first healthcare providers on the scene when injuries occur, must be able to recognize, evaluate, and assess injuries and provide immediate care when needed. Athletic trainers should not be confused with fitness trainers or personal trainers, who are not healthcare workers, but rather train people to become physically fit.

Athletic trainers try to prevent injuries by educating people on how to reduce their risk for injuries and by advising them on the proper use of equipment, exercises to improve balance and strength, and home exercises and therapy programs. They also help apply protective or injury-preventive devices such as tape, bandages, and braces.

Athletic trainers may work under the direction of a licensed physician, and in cooperation with other healthcare providers. The extent of the direction ranges from discussing specific injuries and treatment options with a physician to performing evaluations and treatments as directed by a physician. Some athletic trainers meet with the team physician or consulting physician once or twice a week; others interact with a physician every day. Athletic trainers often have administrative responsibilities. These may include regular meetings with an athletic director, physician practice manager, or other administrative officer to deal with budgets, purchasing, policy implementation, and other business-related issues.

Work Environment

Athletic trainers held about 30,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of athletic trainers were as follows:

  • Educational services; state, local, and private - 38%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private - 20%
  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists - 14%
  • Fitness and recreational sports centers - 5%
  • Self-employed workers - 3%

Athletic trainers also may work with military, with law enforcement, with professional sports teams, or with performing artists.

Athletic trainers may spend their time working outdoors on sports fields in all types of weather.

Work Schedules

Most athletic trainers work full time. Athletic trainers who work with teams during sporting events may work evenings or weekends and travel often.

Education & Training Required

A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is required for almost all jobs as an athletic trainer. In 2009, there were about 350 accredited undergraduate programs nationwide. Students in these programs are educated both in the classroom and in clinical settings. Formal education includes many science and health-related courses, such as human anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics.

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, almost 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master's degree or higher. Athletic trainers may need a master's or higher degree to be eligible for some positions, especially those in colleges and universities, and to increase their advancement opportunities. Because some positions in high schools involve teaching along with athletic trainer responsibilities, a teaching certificate or license could be required.

Certifications Needed

In 2009, 47 States required athletic trainers to be licensed or registered; this requires certification from the Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC). For BOC certification, athletic trainers need a bachelor's or master’s degree from an accredited athletic training program and must pass a rigorous examination. To retain certification, credential holders must continue taking medical-related courses and adhere to the BOC standards of practice. In Alaska, California, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia where licensure is not required, certification is voluntary but may be helpful for those seeking jobs and advancement.

Other Skills Required

Because all athletic trainers deal directly with a variety of people, they need good social and communication skills. They should be able to manage difficult situations and the stress associated with them, such as when disagreements arise with coaches, patients, clients, or parents regarding suggested treatment. Athletic trainers also should be organized, be able to manage time wisely, be inquisitive, and have a strong desire to help people.

How to Advance

There are a few ways for athletic trainers to advance. Some athletic trainers advance by switching teams or sports to gain additional responsibility or pay. Assistant athletic trainers may become head athletic trainers and, eventually, athletic directors or physician, hospital or clinic practice administrators where they assume a management role. Some athletic trainers move into sales and marketing positions, using their expertise to sell medical and athletic equipment.

Job Outlook

Employment of athletic trainers is projected to grow 23 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 3,100 openings for athletic trainers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Some of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.

Sports programs at all ages and for all experience levels will continue to create demand for athletic trainers. Concussions are dangerous at any age, but their effects may be particularly severe and long lasting in children, whose brains are still developing. Because athletic trainers are usually onsite and are often the first responders when injuries occur, some states require public secondary schools to employ athletic trainers as part of their sports programs. The demand for trainers in schools should continue to increase as people become more aware of the effects of sports-related injuries.

Growing numbers of middle-aged and older people are remaining physically active. Their continued activity will likely lead to an increase in athletic-related injuries, such as sprains. Athletic trainers will be needed to provide sophisticated treatments in injury prevention and detection.

Many employers and insurers rely on athletic trainers to help contain costs associated with worker injuries, especially for those who risk injury on the job. For example, athletic trainers may help to rehabilitate injured military personnel. These trainers also create programs aimed at reducing injury rates. Depending on the state, some insurance companies recognize athletic trainers as healthcare providers and reimburse the cost of an athletic trainer’s services.


The median annual wage for athletic trainers was $48,420 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,960, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,180.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for athletic trainers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Educational services; state, local, and private - $58,750
  • Fitness and recreational sports centers - $54,710
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private - $48,070
  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists - $47,210

Most athletic trainers work full time. Athletic trainers who work with teams during sporting events may work evenings or weekends and travel often.

Academic Programs of Interest

Physical Education
A physical education student must like to work with people, be adequately skilled in physical activities, have a commitment to fitness and be interested in the physical, biological and social sciences to be successful in this field. All physical education majors are encouraged to pursue a second major or minor. Most professional teaching preparation programs are designed primarily to meet the needs of those interested... more
Physical Therapy
Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who evaluate and manage health conditions for people of all ages. They may use the title "Dr" as some complete doctor programs. Typically individuals consult a PT for the management of medical problems or other health-related conditions that; cause pain, limit their ability to move, and limit the performance of functional activities. PTs also help prevent health conditions... more
Public Health
Public health is concerned with threats to the overall health of a community based on population health analysis. Health is defined and promoted differently by many organizations. The World Health Organization, the United Nations body that sets standards and provides global surveillance of disease, defines health as: "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."... more