National Athletic Training Month: Are schools doing enough?

Jon Darling, athletic trainer for North Fargo, N.D. Spartan High School, tapes senior Marlee Nasset's ankle prior to track practice, Friday, May 14, 2004. (AP Photo/Alyssa Hurst)

While watching our favorite sports teams, we are generally hoping for 2 things—a win for our team and no injuries.

Injuries have always been a part of sports and likely always will be. The difference between a championship season and missing the playoffs may be 1-2 injuries. Fortunately, professional and college teams almost always have an athletic trainer on site to care for that injury.

Athletic trainers (ATs) are nationally certified after passing a board exam and obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in athletic training. They are state-licensed and work under the direction of a physician in most states. The services provided by ATs comprise prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.1 ATs are the first medical providers to respond to an on field emergency. They care for the individual player (often alone), until an ambulance arrives to transport the player to a hospital.

Recently, there has been a significant amount of attention paid to concussions. From professional sports to Little League, rules have been created to protect athletes; increase recognition of concussions; and assure that athletes are recovered prior to returning to play. State laws have been enacted to govern what must occur if a concussion is suspected. These laws have generally been beneficial as they protect young athletes while educating parents, coaches, and athletes in the recognition of concussions and other serious injuries.

As education and awareness increases, so doesthe chance that a serious medical condition will be recognized and treated appropriately. This is clearly an improvement from the past, but the question that should be asked is whether these rules go far enough. Should coaches be responsible to evaluate an athlete for a concussion or other serious injury while they are trying to coach a game?  Does a short class offer coaches enough training?

The answer, in my opinion, is “No.: The rules do not go far enough and coaches should not be responsible alone to evaluate serious conditions. Fortunately, the athletic training profession is dedicated to the recognition, treatment and care of athletic injuries and ATs specialize in the management and return to play decisions that are vital to the long term health of the injured athlete.

As much as I applaud the rule and legislation changes, such as a federal bill under consideration (House of Representatives Bill 72, the “Student-Athlete’s Bill of Rights”), there remains a gaping hole in the care and protection of our young athletes. Professional and college teams rarely hold workouts without an athletic trainer on site. They would NEVER have a football practice without at least 1 AT on field; yet our high school and youth leagues regularly have collision sports without an AT present (or other qualified health care professional MD, DO, PA-C or CRNP)? 

Currently, only about two-thirds of high schools have access toan athletic trainer (which is an increase over the past 10 years). Many schools only have a part-time athletic trainer available for some games, leaving practices and many high school and middle school games uncovered. Even with a small increase in AT access, there still remains no coverage for many athletes playing football, wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, etc. (all sports with a significant number of serious injuries including those to the head and neck.)

Many school districts either claim they cannot afford an athletic trainer or choose not to hire one. (As a side note, high school ATs average $39K/year2—similar to and often less than a teacher’s salary.) If a school district cannot afford to employ an athletic trainer to be present for all collision sports; they cannot afford a sports program that includes collision sports. We need to do better to protect our student-athletes. Athletic trainers are a necessity, not a luxury. Legislation is a step in the right direction, but needs to go further to safeguard young athletes and require appropriate medical coverage.

Simply put— no athletic trainer on site, no collision sports (games or practice). This seems drastic, but how many games begin without an official or coach?  If the safety of our children is truly important, athletic trainers will be required to be on site for all collision sports where serious injuries are not just possible, but likely.


1) Athletic Training-National Athletic Trainers' Association. (2014, March 2). Retrieved from National Athletic Trainers' Association:

2) Career Center-National Athletic Trainers’ Association. (2014, March 18). Retrieved from National Athletic Trainers’ Association: 

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