What I Actually Do: Athletic Trainer Edition



So most people don’t even know what an athletic trainer is. Most people think we are personal trainers, like strength and conditioning coaches, but that’s not the case. I always explain my profession with a scenario. Say you are watching Sunday night football and Tom Brady gets hurt. The first person on the scene, running out onto the field is us. We are first responders. We are a link in the chain between the victim, EMS, physicians and many other healthcare providers. But we are not just medics. We not only diagnose injuries, but prevent them and rehabilitate them as well. So essentially we do it all, and still have a low salary, and work crazy hours, which sucks. But we don’t do it for the money. Athletic trainers are people who know that if they got a regular 9-5 desk job, we would die. We run on adrenaline, and can’t live with a cookie cutter lifestyle. Our job leaves room for creativity, and there is always something new and exciting everyday that keeps us engaged.

So with this job comes blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes its our own and sometimes its the body fluids of the athletes. It depends on the day, on a good day its our and not theirs.

But here are some typical responsibilities we attend to everyday.

  1. Water, and field set up. NO WE ARE NOT WATERBOYS. We can lead the horses to water, but we can’t make them drink. But if the ten gallon jug is still full 30 minutes into a football practice in 90 degree heat, you will feel our wrath.
  2. Taping and bracing. Yeah, we can tape an ankle like a boss, some of us can even do it blindfolded. But that’s not all we know. We can create a splint out of just about anything around us. If something hurts, but you can still practice we can ind a way to tape it and make it better until we can get in for some rehab. We could put Jason Bourne to shame with how resourceful we are, but unlike Jason Bourne we try to cure and heal instead of killing someone with our pinky finger. But interrupt us during our lunch and we might try our hand at the latter.
  3. Wound Care. This one is pretty self explanatory. If you get a boo-boo, we make it all better. We are good about triaging wounds, and knowing when to send you for stitches, when we can steri-strip, or when we slap a bandaid on it and call it a day.
  4. Emergency Care. This is the nitty gritty stuff. When Stacy got her bell rung at soccer practice, or Daniel tore his ACL at football, or a hockey player broke his arm. We do it all. We are there for the good and the bad.
  5. Rehabilitation. We design and implement programs for all types of injuries everyday. We customize it to each athlete, and progress them accordingly. Ankle sprains, post op candidates, tendonitis, strains, sprains, contusions (fancy word for bruise), or generalized pain we can make it better everyday, and get you back out to your sport. This is one of the most rewarding parts of athletic training: to see the progress of an athlete, and know that you made a difference.
  6. Sports Psychology. We can also tell you to lie on a taping table and tell us how you feel about that. Just kidding. But we do take the mental and emotional health of all our athletes into account, whether it’s discouraging thoughts when they plateau in rehab, or the stress of classes, or other personal things. We also see the things no one should have to face in their lifetime (rape, domestic abuse, suicide, depression, etc.) We hate to see it, but when we do, we know how to manage the situation, and ensure the athlete gets the help and support they need, discreetly of course.
  7. Nutrition. This may seem easy, like we still log on to mypyramid and give the athlete a generic response about a “healthy” diet. But what works for a cross country athlete may not be what a 300lb lineman needs. We specialize nutrition plans as needed for individuals or sports teams, by season or needs. Like during the preseason, athletes are overloaded and will need more calories, a higher percentage of fat and protein to recover in between sessions. So after double sessions or an insane powerlifting session, that entire pizza will actually do some good. But during the competition phase, athletes need less calories than preseason, and are just working on maintenance of their weight instead of packing pounds on for power.
  8. Strength and Conditioning. This is one of the most fun parts of my job. Not every athletic trainer gets to do this. You have to have extra certifications, which I am currently working towards. Watching someone hit a new PR in the weight room, or make progress in their rehabilitation is what makes this job so rewarding. Also, we like to yell and motivate our athletes. It’s our excuse to yell and get all our angst out from the day. It’s fun to be in a position of power. Anyway, I like designing programs and taking the time to make it sports specific so it is more beneficial to the team I’m working with. Again, being creative is crucial to being a successful athletic trainer.
  9. Preventative Exercise.  This goes right along with strength and conditioning, but the intensity may be dialed down a bit. All athletes get glute strengthening, and dynamic mobility and stability to prevent ACL injuries. But other sports need other prevention measures in play. Baseball, softball, and swimmers need shoulder strengthening and stability exercises, while hockey players need hip mobility. We delve deep into the biomechanics of each sport to determine the most likely injuries and how to prevent them!

That’s what our job entails, but here are some unexpected things we experience everyday.

  1. You can never eat anything while working…It’s like as soon as I open my Tupperware, athletes within a 5-mile radius flock to my location and immediately need something. But their needs always come before mine.
  2. You sit out at practice alone for an hour because coach forgot to tell you that they were going to watch film for an hour, and then practice.
  3. You always have to pee at inconvenient times, like when there is no one else to watch the field, or someone needed their ankle wrapped right this minute.
  4. You spill an entire ten gallon of water on yourself because you tripped trying to put it on the cart. Maybe this one is just me…I never had good luck with water. I once spilled an entire jug on the basketball court ten minutes before the game and tried to clean it up before anyone saw. Little did I know my preceptor was watching the whole thing from the second floor.
  5. You always carry extra sets of clothes with you, because blood on your khakis from the soccer player with the nosebleed is not cool.
  6. You can work on the grossest of injuries then shrug, wash your hands and go eat lunch.
  7. You sit in the AT room waiting for a particular athlete who was supposed to come in to do rehab, but was a no show. (WE HATE THIS). Send us a text or an email with your excuse! Hopefully in advance, because while you were at lunch with your friends because you forgot about your appointment, we were sitting there waiting for you like a date that got stood up. Okay, not really, but it’s a surefire way to piss us off.

In short, our job requires extreme creative and dedication. You really have to care to be a successful athletic trainer. If you don’t build relationships with your athletes, then they will be less inclined to come to you about an injury, and we have to be not only approachable, but available. Comment below with your experiences about being an athletic trainer or how they have made an impact in your life!


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