Athletic Trainer Education and Career Pathway

By | July 16, 2023
Athletic Trainer Education
You can start your athletic trainer career with an education leading to an Associate degree in Athletic Training.

This post has provided exhaustive information on the athletic trainer education and career, to help you start and advance and build a successful career.   

If you are interested in becoming an athletic trainer (AT) and succeed in your career, then you will need to fulfill certain educational requirements to be qualified to practice, and to develop certain qualities.

Please, continue reading:

Why Choose Athletic Trainer Career?

There are many reasons to choose an athletic trainer (AT) career.

For starters, it’s one of the few careers where you can make a difference in someone else’s life every day.

You will be able to help people recover from injury and prevent future problems.

It’s also an excellent approach to improve your CV.

Also, there are many different types of jobs available for an AT.

There are jobs that require little or no experience, but most positions require at least some college education.

If you want to start your career right away, consider working for a team like the Chicago Bears, New York Yankees, or Boston Red Sox.

These teams have their own training staffs that need certified athletic trainers on hand to treat injured players.

Athletic Trainer Education Requirements

The first step towards becoming an AT is obtaining an Associate degree in Athletic Training, which commonly takes two years to complete.

After graduation, you must then take a certification exam administered by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).

The NATA exam consists of three parts: Written Test, Clinical Exam, and Physical Fitness Assessment.

To become a Certified Athletic Trainer (CAT), you must pass all three parts of the exam.

In addition, you must hold a current license with the state in which you practice.

Some states allow graduates of accredited schools to apply directly for licensure without taking the exam. However, this varies by state.

Athletic Trainer Continuing Education

If you already have an Associate degree, you may still pursue additional certifications through continuing education programs offered by colleges and universities across the country.

Most programs offer courses related to sports medicine, biomechanics, emergency management, nutrition, and other areas.

Athletic Trainer Certification/License

To work as an AT in any state, you must obtain a license. Each state has its own set of guidelines for licensing requirements.

Some states require only a certificate while others require both a certificate and license.

Licensing exams vary depending on the type of position you seek.

For example, if you plan to work as a high school athletic trainer, you must pass a standardized test administered by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA).

In contrast, the NFHS requires only a certificate when seeking employment with a high school football team.

Athletic Trainer Career Pathways

There are different career pathways for an Athletic trainer, they include:

  1. Hospitality & Recreation

The hospitality industry includes hotels, restaurants, casinos, amusement parks, cruise lines, and more.

As an Athletic trainer, you could work in these facilities treating patients who have been involved in accidents or injuries.

2. Sports Medicine

The sports medicine field involves treating athletes who suffer from injuries during games or practices.

A good job in this field would involve working with professional athletes such as NFL players, MLB players, NBA players, NHL players, and NCAA Division I student-athletes.

3. Team Physicians

Team physicians assist team doctors in providing medical care to athletes. They often work closely with coaches and athletic trainers.

4. Medical Director

Medical directors oversee the health and safety of athletes. They manage medical services provided to athletes and supervise athletic trainers.

5. Athletic Trainer

An athletic trainer works with athletes at every level of play. They can also be found working with cheerleaders, gymnasts, dancers, and martial artists.

6. Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Strength and conditioning specialists help athletes improve their performance by improving strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, agility, and balance.

7. Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors provide patient rehabilitation services after an injury or illness.

They can assist individuals with physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling, psychological testing, and more.

Other career pathways are:

  • General Practice
  • Emergency Care
  • Pediatric
  • Rehabilitation
  • Public Health
  • Medical Administration
  • Law Enforcement
  • Firefighting
  • Military
  • Correctional Healthcare
  • Athletic Training Schools
  • Private Practice
  • Government Service
  • Research

How to Advance your Athletic Trainer Career

If you want to advance your athletic training career, there are several ways to do so.

You can start by getting an Associate’s degree in Athletic Training. This is the most common route taken by new athletic trainers.

After obtaining your Associate’s degree, you may then choose to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in athletic training.

If you’re interested in becoming a Certified Athletic Trainer (CAT), you’ll need to earn a Master’s degree first.

The next step is to become board certified. Board certification is required for many positions within healthcare including athletic trainers.

Once you’ve obtained all of these credentials, you will be qualified to practice in almost any setting. 

How to find a Good Athletic Trainer School

Finding a school that offers quality education and training is important when choosing an athletic training program.

Here are ideas you can apply to find one:

  1. Online/Onsite

Some schools offer only online programs while others require students to attend classes on campus. It’s best to look into each school’s accreditation status before enrolling.

2. Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that the curriculum meets certain standards set forth by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

There are three levels of accreditation available. Level 1 means that the institution has met basic requirements.

Level 2 means they have met higher standards; and Level 3 means they have met even higher standards.

3. Program Length

Most athletic training programs last between two years and four years. Some programs take longer than this depending on the student’s interests and goals.

4. Tuition Costs

Tuition costs vary from school to school but generally range from $0 to $10,000 per year.

Scholarships and financial assistance are available at some colleges.

5. Class Size

Class size varies greatly from one school to another. Smaller class sizes mean better individual attention.

Larger class sizes mean less time spent with each student.

6. Faculty Experience

The experience level of faculty members also plays a role in how well trained your instructors will be.

A good instructor should be knowledgeable about the sport he teaches. He should also know how to teach it effectively. 

How to be Successful in your Athletic Trainer Career

You can be successful as an athletic trainer if you follow some guidelines:

  1. Always put athletes’ health above everything else

In order to be successful as an athletic trainer, you must always put athletes’ health above everything else.

When working with athletes, you must never push them too hard or force them to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Instead, you should encourage them to try new activities and let them make their own decisions.

2. Maintain high ethical standards

As an athletic trainer, you must maintain high moral and ethical standards at all times. That means being honest and fair with everyone involved in the process.

Also, you should never lie to anyone.

In addition, you should never abuse your position of power.

3. Be Flexible

As an athletic trainer, you need to be flexible. You cannot expect yourself to work in one specific field forever.

Therefore, you need to continue learning throughout your entire career.

4. Know your limits

As an athletic trainer, you need to know your limits. You shouldn’t overwork yourself because you might end up injuring yourself. 

What does an Athletic Trainer do?

An athletic trainer is responsible for monitoring the health of athletes during practice and games.

They may also provide medical care to injured players. Their main responsibility is to ensure that every athlete receives proper treatment and rehabilitation.

Qualities of a Good Athletic Trainer

An excellent athletic trainer needs to possess these qualities to be successful in their career:

  1. Knowledgeable

He/she should have a thorough knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, sports medicine, nutrition, injury prevention and rehabilitation.

2. Patient

He/She should be patient and understanding when dealing with athletes who are not ready to accept certain aspects of their recovery.

3. Honest

He/she should be honest and trustworthy. He/she should never tell lies or mislead others.

4. Professional

He/she should act professionally at all times. He/she should treat people with respect and dignity.

5. Dedicated

He/she should dedicate his/her life to helping other people.

6. Athletic Trainer Salary

According to, the starting income for an athletic trainer ranges from $46,705 to $56,269 per year, with an average starting salary of $51,026.

Athletic Trainer Job Outlook

Athletic trainer employment is expected to expand 23 percent between 2020 and 2030, substantially faster than the average for all occupations.

On average, 3,100 sports trainer job opportunities are expected per year during the next decade.


The outlook for an Athletic Trainers is very good. There will be many jobs available in this growing industry.

However, it’s important to get started early on your career path, this way, you can enjoy a long and rewarding career.

This post has provided detailed information to boost your knowledge of the athletic trainer education and career, to increase your chances of success.