Athletic Trainers: What Are We?

While this blog is mainly about fitness and nutrition, it’s no secret that I’m just as passionate about what I do for a living –athletic training — as I am about health/fitness. I’ve written here before about why I love my profession so much, and seeing as it’s National Athletic Training Month, I think it’s only appropriate that I touch on this topic again!

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with what athletic trainers do, you can read a little bit more about it here. We are sports medicine specialists who’s job generally falls into a few major categories: injury prevention, recognition, evaluation, and rehabilitation for the active population.  Many of us are certified strength and conditioning specialists, most of us have a Master’s degree or higher, and we’re trained as emergency first responders.  Yes, I think we’re pretty important.

But today’s post isn’t to give you a run down of all of the things that we do. Today I want to talk about AT’s in a broader sense. Yes, we can tell you that you have a torn ACL and we can rehab the heck out of you after you have that ACL reconstructed, but we do a lot more than that as well.  And at the risk of sounding cheesy or over dramatic, it’s not necessarily just about what we do, but about what we are.

So what are we?

  • We are life savers. This is the number one reason– and really the only reason you need–  why every school and athletic program should employ an athletic trainer (sadly, many do not).  Every year there are a handful of stories of athletes who have collapsed on the ice/court/field who have been revived by a fast acting AT. Without proper medical coverage on the sideline, an athlete who suffers from sudden cardiac arrest is going to wait 20 minutes (if they’re lucky) for an ambulance, which is often far too late. An AT on the sideline who is equipped with an AED can, and will save lives. If you think that that type of emergency can’t happen at your school or on your team, please read here, here, and here, to see that it can happen anywhere, any time. (And a quick Google search will give you many more stories just like those!)
  • We are future-preservers. Wait, what? Stay with me here. ATs want their athletes to be healthy so that they can play in next week’s game, or the championship game two weeks from now. But you know what we really prioritize over any game, practice, or playoff berth? We prioritize your long term health, and your ability to live your life 10, 20, 30 years from now. I had a conversation the other day with one of my lacrosse players, in which I told her that yes, I want her to be able to play this season, but I also want her to be able to run around with her kids when she’s 45. A quality AT will preserve both your present and future health as much as we can, even when there is pressure to do otherwise.
  • We are a support system. We do much of what we do in the background, behind the scenes. We are unseen, often unheard, and unfortunately often unmentioned in the world of athletics, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not effective (and totally awesome). Honestly, if someone wants to be a superstar, athletic training is the wrong profession for them — our patients’ health is far more important than the spotlight. We do what we do so that the people who do want to be super stars can shine in the best way possible. What happens when an injured quaterback comes back from surgery to lead his team to a national championship? The athletic trainer is not hoisted upon the shoulders of the team; that honor belongs to the coach and the athletes (and they deserve it!). Athletic trainers are there to support the system, to make sure that all of the cogs in the wheel are running smoothly, to make sure that each link in the chain is as strong as it can possibly be.
  • We are medical professionals.  Many people think of ATs as the person in khakis and a polo on the sideline who squirts water bottles in football players’ mouths. (Let’s not even get me started on how seeing that makes me feel). But the reality is, we are sports medicine specialists. We are the most accessible form of health care for many athletes, and we have an exceptionally broad scope of practice. We specialize in treating the active population and helping to return them to their activity as quickly as possible — and this goes far, far beyond ice bags and ace wraps.

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We are all of these things, and much much more (too much to include in one blog post).  I think my main point here is that while ATs are often thought of as the people who tape ankles, we are a hell of a lot more than that. Do we tape ankles? Thousands of them, yes, and we’re all pretty darn good at it. But when someone asks me what it is that I do, “tape ankles” is never an answer that will come out of my mouth. That is like asking the President what he does, and his answer being “sign papers”. We are a profession of ethics, integrity, and empathy. We are people who care so deeply for the athletes that we work with that we often make sacrifices in our own lives to ensure that they get the best care possible. We are not just here to tape ankles and stretch hamstrings, we are here to give athletes the optimal opportunity to not only be healthy now but to be healthy in the future as well. That is what we do, and if you ask me, I think we do it pretty well.

Happy National Athletic Training Month to all my fellow ATs out there!

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6 thoughts on “Athletic Trainers: What Are We?

  1. Love this post!!! I got my bachelor’s in AT and while I didn’t keep practicing as an AT much after graduation, I stayed in the health and wellness field and use that knowledge every day in my career still. Such an important job and so severely under appreciated (and paid!!) Keep it up girl, you rock!!

  2. Fantastic job Steph, I hope you don’t mind if I print this out and post it around my athletic training room!!

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