How to Become an Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainer helping swimmer prevent injuries

Athletic training is an ideal career field for people with a passion for sports and an interest in medicine. This highly specialized field is dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries and conditions.

If you are considering a career in medicine, but you prefer not to spend years in medical school, becoming an athletic trainer can be the opportunity you have been looking for. There are several requirements you will have to meet to begin actively working as an athletic trainer. It starts when you enroll in an undergraduate athletic trainer degree program.

What Does an Athletic Trainer Do?

It's often thought that athletic trainers are the same as personal fitness trainers who work with athletes to improve their physical conditioning. In fact, athletic trainers are medical professionals who specialize in the prevention and treatment of sports-related medical problems.

Often, an athletic trainer is the first person to evaluate an athlete after an injury occurs. They provide first aid and stabilize the injured body part. They also determine whether an athlete can continue playing or must retreat to the facility for further treatment. In addition to providing emergency care, an athletic trainer will work under the supervision of a licensed physician to establish an initial treatment plan. Later, they may establish a physical rehabilitation program. Athletic trainers also work with athletes to correct their biomechanics and reduce the risk of an injury occurrence.

Where Do Athletic Trainers Work?

One of the most visible roles for athletic trainers is on the playing field. They attend practices and games, standing by to evaluate and treat injuries. However, athletic trainers do much more than treat athletes on the field. They work with athletes year-round to rehabilitate them and reduce the risk of future injuries.

An athletic trainer could work in a variety of environments, including the following: High school, collegiate or professional sports teams Fitness facilities Sports medicine clinics Dance and other performing arts companies In addition, some athletic trainers work for the military. For instance, they may work with injured recruits going through boot camp.

Do I Need to Earn an Undergraduate Athletic Trainer Degree?

Yes, all aspiring athletic trainers need at least an undergraduate athletic trainer degree. This program will give you a strong grasp on key areas such as biomechanics, kinesiology, therapeutic interventions and injury prevention. Your degree program should ideally combine classroom instruction with hands-on learning opportunities that enable you to practice what you have learned.

While you are earning your bachelor’s degree, look for opportunities to gain relevant work experience in order to build up your resume. For instance, you might apply to a position at a local fitness center or volunteer with a collegiate sports team. Local youth sports teams may present additional volunteering opportunities. This is a great way to learn the sports business from the ground up, even though your position will not involve treating athletes.

Do Athletic Trainers Need a Master’s Degree?

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), 70% of athletic trainers have a master’s degree.1 Athletic trainers are not strictly required to earn a master’s degree in order to begin working in the field. However, many employers do require or prefer these advanced degrees. Plus, a master’s degree would help you build your skills and knowledge base in order to better serve the athletes with whom you work.

If you do decide to earn a master’s degree, you have a choice. It is possible to earn your master’s degree while working. Some employers may even offer tuition reimbursement. Alternatively, you can apply to a master’s degree program immediately after graduating with your bachelor’s.

Does an Athletic Trainer Need to Be Licensed?

Since an athletic trainer is a medical professional, licensure is required in most states. The specific requirements for licensure can vary from one state to the next. You will need to check the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice.

Most states require aspiring athletic trainers to complete a standard certification exam administered by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer.2 In addition, you should plan on earning your cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification from the American Red Cross.

Are There Any Other Requirements for Becoming an Athletic Trainer?

Yes, all athletic trainers must periodically renew their licenses in order to continue to practice. To renew your license, you will need to take a certain number of continuing education classes per renewal period.

It is in an athletic trainer’s best interest to maintain a commitment to ongoing professional development. New medical breakthroughs and technologies are being discovered every year. Set aside time each week to read sports medicine journals and related publications. In order to help athletes stay at the top of their game, you will need to be on top of yours.

Is Becoming an Athletic Trainer a Smart Career Choice?

Athletic training can be a great career choice for people who love sports and have an interest in medicine. Plus, it has a highly favorable outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for athletic trainers to increase by about 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 5,200 jobs in the field.3*

Grand Canyon University is pleased to educate the next generation of compassionate medical professionals by delivering a rigorous curriculum that blends thoughtful classroom instruction with hands-on experiences. Apply to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training degree program and emerge prepared to take the National Board of Certification exam. Begin exploring your exciting future at GCU by clicking on the Request Info button at the top of your screen.

Retrieved from:

1National Athletic Trainer's Association, Profile of Athletic Trainers in May 2021

2Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer, State Regulation Search in March 2021

3U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Athletic Trainers in March 2021

*Covid-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Athletic Trainers.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.