Why all high school athletic programs should have an athletic trainer?

Wherever you have sports, the possibility of injury exists. Whether it’s an ankle sprain, a shoulder or arm injury or something more serious, like a concussion, an injury will most likely occur. For sports in the collegiate and professional levels, having an available athletic trainer available is the norm. But not so much at the high school level. Only about 40% of high schools in the U.S. have an athletic trainer. Funding is usually the reason why. But schools need to take into account other costs associated with an injury that could have been limited due to the addition of an Athletic Trainer (AT). Over time, schools could benefit by cost reduction from medical expenses, lowered injury rates and liabilities in the case of more severe injuries.

The importance of a certified athletic trainer at the high school level makes sense. Without one, coaches, officials, players and parents are left to help assess the impact of a player’s injury. Although coaches and parents might have some level of knowledge in evaluating a player’s injury, they are in no way as qualified as the athletic trainer to make the critical decisions required to minimize the impact of an injury.

Here is how the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) answers the question, “Who are athletic trainers”.

“Athletic trainers (ATs) are highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. Athletic trainers work under the direction of a physician as prescribed by state licensure statutes.”

Athletic trainers are sometimes confused with personal trainers. There is, however, a large difference in the education, skill set, job duties and patients of an athletic trainer and a personal trainer. The athletic training academic curriculum and clinical training follow the medical model. Athletic trainers must graduate from an accredited baccalaureate or master’s program, and 70% of ATs have a master’s degree.

High schools need to begin to realize that injuries, such as concussions, can have more serious and long-term effects if they are not diagnosed and treated early. Returning a player to the field of play while still having symptoms of a concussion is a recipe for a more serious brain injury.

Although many schools participate in the remove-from-play concussion protocols, without an athletic trainer, it is a valid to ask how closely the rules are being followed, and by who? Coaches and even parents have a vested interest in getting a player, especially the most talented ones, back on the field for the purpose of helping the team win. Not to mention the possible implications of not playing in front of college scouts who may be watching with a scholarship offer in jeopardy.

But with a certified athletic trainer ready, it would be them and only them who makes sure the protocol is followed correctly. They are not only trained to assess an athlete’s symptoms, but they are also trained to evaluate progress and determine when it is safe to allow the player to return to action.

So, what are a few of the other primary reasons that athletic trainers are a valuable asset to have for the safety of your school’s athletes? Here are a few of the most important.


Training is the most obvious but also the most important reason to have an Athletic Trainer. Athletic trainers have been specifically trained in sports related injuries. In fact, AT’s know more about sports injuries that most other health care professionals. For the safety of the athletes, and the comfort level of their parents, who would you rather have analyzing the symptoms of an injury than a trained professional


Athletic trainers who work with players on a regular basis get to know the student-athletes well, probably more so than their actual parents. They see them on the field and how they react to collisions and contact and can quickly determine when something doesn’t appear right with the athlete. That gives them an edge over a coach or a parent when an incident occurs and can get them off the field for further evaluation.


Athletes tend to build trust with their athletic trainer. They learn to respect their opinion and believe that the AT is only looking out for their safety and well-being. Because of this trust, athletes may be more likely to report symptoms to the AT rather than keeping it to themselves.


Although schools without athletic trainers most likely have staff trained on concussion protocols as well as how to diagnose sports injuries. The question remains; How committed are they to reinforcing them. Having an athletic trainer who is not only trained but responsible for the “good” of the athletes, provides the necessary reinforcement of these guidelines and protocols. AT’s can provide clear medical information and rational reasons why a player should not be allowed to return to action. With solid medical reasoning, players, coaches and parents alike will have a much better understanding of the decision.

Immediate Medical Support

How many times have you been to a sports event and a player was hurt, possibly seriously, and there didn’t appear to be any appropriate medical assistance immediately available? Probably more times than you’d like. Having an AT available on the spot will at the very least provide someone who is trained and knowledgeable regarding various types of sports injuries and can administer some quick tests or observe some apparent symptoms which could lead to a faster diagnosis of the issue and help with any immediate treatments necessary.