Are you interested in becoming an athletic trainer? It’s a great career for those who want to help and heal people. It takes dedication, patience, and skill acquired from education and hands-on experience on the field, in schools or colleges, or rehabilitation clinics.
Athletic trainers (ATs) work in the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, and other professional sports teams, college sports teams, and other organizations. Athletic trainers are certified health care professionals working under the direction of physicians.
They can be seen as a medical jack-of-all-trades, healing anything from major head and neck trauma to minor acute injuries while promoting long-term nutrition and wellness. If you dream of making it to the big leagues, it takes hard work and a commitment to learning the craft. But being a certified athletic trainer in the NFL or other sports organization could be in your future if you understand what you need to do to get there.
Becoming An Athletic Trainer: What You Need to Do
The first thing you need to do in becoming an athletic trainer is to earn a baccalaureate degree from an accredited athletic training curriculum.
This is the minimum education to get a job as an athletic trainer. It can’t be just any college or university, though. As you begin researching programs, reference the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), the organization responsible for accrediting programs in the field. Since ATs impact all areas of the medical field, these accredited programs will focus on several core competencies:
- Risk Management and Injury Prevention
- Pathology of Injuries and Illnesses
- Orthopedic Clinical Examination and Assessment
- Medical Conditions and Disabilities
- Acute Care of Injuries and Illnesses
- Therapeutic Modalities and Conditioning and Rehabilitative Exercises
- Psychosocial Intervention and Referral
- Nutritional Aspects of Injuries and Illnesses
- Healthcare Administration Best Practices
After students receive their degree from an accredited program, they must successfully pass the NATA Board of Certification (BOC) Exam. In most states, the individual must also be credentialed within the state to practice as an athletic trainer.
BOC-certified students are required to participate in at least two years of academic clinical education, gaining experience with people of various ages and performing several types of activities. This clinical work will provide students valuable hands-on practice, real-world knowledge, and insight into what most piques their interests. Upon completion of your clinical internship, you’ll have all the tools necessary to enter the field.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Athletic Trainer?
Going through the steps of how to become an athletic trainer takes sincere dedication – and time. Studies for a baccalaureate degree typically take four years, although this can be reduced if you take summer classes or additional courses on top of a full-time schedule. The two years of hands-on clinical practice may be part of your academic program, or it could be completed outside of it.
It is also fairly common for certified athletic trainers to have a master’s degree. This takes additional time before landing a job. Generally speaking, it would take around 4-6 years to become an athletic trainer.
According to the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), soon, all Professional Athletic Training Programs will only result in a master’s degree.
How to Become an Athletic Trainer for a Professional Sports Team
Becoming an athletic trainer for a professional sports team is a dream job for many people who are passionate about sports and health. It is extremely competitive, but there are certain things you can do to help get your foot in the door.
Internships are an excellent way to gain further skills and prove your value. Ideally, you would intern during the summer after receiving your bachelor’s degree and/or the summers while you are earning your master’s degree. A college internship may also be used as a good stepping stone to get into professional sports.
Having good working relationships with colleagues and athletic directors is also an important component of landing that dream job with the league’s NFL or other professional league. These connections can set you apart from others skilled in the field. Recommendations from colleagues and those in sports leadership serve as powerful advocates in your job search in professional sports.
- Director of Intercollegiate Athletics
Administration/Management - Southeast Region
- Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance
Administration/Management - Southeast Region
- Assistant Athletic Trainer Clinic
Health/Fitness/Rec. - Central Region
- Certified Associate Athletic Trainer
Health/Fitness/Rec. - West Region
How Much Are Athletic Trainers Paid?
As with most careers, your level of education, the job’s geographic location, and the type of employer impact your salary. The current average salary for Athletic Trainers is $37,000, with entry-level compensation starting around $20,000. There is no salary ceiling preventing successful Athletic Trainers with master’s degrees from earning $100,000+ but ATs with a basic education max out around $60,000 per year.
Certified athletic trainers in the most prestigious positions, such as working for an NFL team, will typically be at the higher end of the salary range.
Your Athletic Trainer Career Path
When you are researching how to become an athletic trainer, there is much to consider. You must not only have the right education and develop the skills set, but you also should think about your personality.
When dealing with patients, the utmost care and bedside manner are necessary due to the great physical, and emotional toll often beset upon them. Day-to-day, ATs themselves will feel all areas of the emotional spectrum. The highs and the lows. Ultimately, ATs want to improve others’ lives, working hard to prevent injuries on the playing field – and helping to heal athletes when they do get injured.
If you want a career in sports helping others – and are willing to put in the work to get that job – becoming an athletic trainer could truly be a dream come true.