Athletic Trainer Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Athletic Trainer Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $53,840 

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best College Majors for Athletic Trainers in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Athletic Trainer:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

Athletic Trainer Career Path Overview

The journey to becoming a successful athletic trainer involves a combination of education, certifications, and hands-on experience. The career path can be quite rewarding, as it allows you to play a crucial role in the health and well-being of athletes.

Education Requirements for Athletic Trainers

In order to become an athletic trainer, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree in athletic training or a related field like kinesiology or exercise science. However, many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree, making advanced education beneficial. During your studies, you will cover topics like injury prevention, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic interventions, healthcare administration, and professional development. Your coursework will provide the foundational knowledge necessary to understand the human body, assess injuries, and implement effective treatment plans.

Certifications Needed for Athletic Trainers

Certification is a crucial step in the athletic trainer career path. After completing your degree, you will need to pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam to become a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC). This certification demonstrates your competence in the field and is required for most athletic training positions. In addition to the BOC certification, there are also specialty certifications that can help advance your career. These include the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) credentials offered by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Skills Required for Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers must possess a wide range of skills. They need strong interpersonal skills to communicate effectively with athletes, coaches, and medical professionals. They must also have good problem-solving skills to diagnose and treat injuries. Additionally, trainers need physical stamina as they are often on their feet for long periods. They should also be able to handle stressful situations, as they may need to provide immediate care in the event of a severe injury.

Work Experience for Athletic Trainers

Work experience is vital in the athletic trainer career path. Many degree programs include clinical rotations that provide students with hands-on experience in various settings, such as sports medicine clinics, schools, and professional sports organizations. After graduation, entry-level positions can further enhance your skills and knowledge. As you gain experience, you may have opportunities to advance to roles with more responsibility or specialize in areas like rehabilitation or strength training.

Career Opportunities for Athletic Trainers

There are numerous career opportunities for athletic trainers across different settings. You may find employment in schools and universities, professional sports teams, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. You can also pursue roles in corporate wellness programs or the military. With experience and additional certifications, you could advance to roles like head athletic trainer or athletic director. Some athletic trainers also choose to specialize in specific areas like pediatric sports medicine or orthopedic rehabilitation. In conclusion, the athletic trainer career path offers a mix of academic learning and practical experience. With the right education, certification, skills, and experience, it presents numerous opportunities for those passionate about sports and healthcare.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Education and Training

To become a successful Athletic Trainer, it is crucial to have a comprehensive educational foundation and practical training. The process begins with a strong desire to help athletes perform at their best and avoid or recover from injuries. The journey to becoming an Athletic Trainer is multi-faceted, involving both academic education and hands-on training.

Undergraduate Education

The first step on the path to becoming an Athletic Trainer is earning a bachelor's degree. Potential fields of study include athletic training, health, physical education, or a related discipline. These programs offer courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics that provide the necessary background for this profession.

Graduate Education

In recent years, the athletic training profession has shifted towards requiring a master's degree as the entry-level educational standard. Master's programs in athletic training provide an advanced understanding of injury prevention, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation. These programs often involve clinical rotations that allow students to gain practical experience under the supervision of a licensed Athletic Trainer.


Upon completion of a degree program, aspiring Athletic Trainers must pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam to become certified Athletic Trainers. The BOC exam tests candidates' knowledge and skills in areas such as injury prevention, clinical evaluation and diagnosis, immediate care, treatment, rehabilitation, and organizational and professional health and well-being.

State Licensure

After earning certification, Athletic Trainers must obtain licensure in the state they wish to practice in. Requirements for licensure vary by state but typically include passing a state examination and completing continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain licensure.

Continuing Education

To stay current with the latest developments in athletic training, it is essential for Athletic Trainers to engage in continuing education. This can include attending workshops, seminars, or courses, or earning additional certifications in areas such as strength and conditioning or sports nutrition.

Practical Experience

In addition to educational requirements, gaining practical experience is crucial for aspiring Athletic Trainers. This can be achieved through internships or job shadowing opportunities where individuals can apply their knowledge and skills in real-world situations. Practical experience allows Athletic Trainers to hone their skills, deepen their understanding of the profession, and build a professional network. In conclusion, the path to becoming an Athletic Trainer involves rigorous education and extensive training. The combination of academic study, practical experience, certification, and licensure equips these professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to provide optimal care to athletes.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Progression

The Athletic Trainer career path offers a vast array of opportunities, from entry-level positions to advanced roles that require significant experience and specialization. This progression is not only rewarding but also allows professionals to develop a deep understanding of sports medicine and athlete care.

Entry-Level Athletic Trainer

Starting your career as an entry-level Athletic Trainer, you'll typically work under the supervision of a more experienced professional. This role involves learning the basics of injury prevention, assessment, and treatment. Your responsibilities might include providing first aid, assisting with rehabilitative exercises, and helping athletes prepare for events. A Bachelor's degree in Athletic Training or a related field is usually required for this role.

Mid-Level Athletic Trainer

After gaining a few years of experience and demonstrating a high level of competency, you can progress to a mid-level Athletic Trainer role. Here, you will have more autonomy and responsibility in managing athlete care. You will need to develop comprehensive treatment plans, oversee rehabilitation programs, and often work directly with doctors and other healthcare professionals. To advance to this level, you may also need to obtain a Master's degree or additional certifications.

Senior-Level Athletic Trainer

As a senior-level Athletic Trainer, you'll be responsible for overseeing the entire athletic training program. This includes managing other trainers, liaising with medical staff, developing injury prevention programs, and ensuring athletes receive the best possible care. Leadership skills are crucial at this level, as you'll often be responsible for a team of trainers. A Doctorate degree in Athletic Training or a related field may be required for these high-ranking positions.

Specialization in the Athletic Training Field

Beyond the typical progression, many Athletic Trainers choose to specialize in specific areas. Some may focus on working with specific sports or types of athletes, such as professional athletes, youth sports, or collegiate athletics. Others may specialize in particular types of injuries or treatments, such as concussion management, orthopedic rehabilitation, or performance enhancement.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Further career advancement opportunities exist outside of the traditional athletic training setting. Some Athletic Trainers might transition into roles in research, teaching, or administration. Others might take on consulting roles, providing expert advice to sports organizations or health care facilities. These advanced roles often require additional education and experience but offer unique challenges and rewards. In conclusion, the Athletic Trainer career path is diverse and offers a range of opportunities for professional growth. By gaining experience, furthering your education, and possibly specializing in a particular area, you can progress through the ranks and make a significant impact in the field of sports medicine.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Specializations and Subfields

The field of athletic training is quite diverse, offering numerous specializations and subfields to aspiring professionals. Each specialization allows trainers to focus on specific areas of sports medicine, catering to unique athlete needs, and improving overall performance. Here, we will delve into some of the most popular and intriguing specializations within the athletic trainer career path.

Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist

As a Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist, an athletic trainer works closely with athletes to boost their performance levels. This involves creating comprehensive training regimens that not only improve physical abilities but also psychological readiness. Trainers in this specialization often work with athletes at various levels, from youth sports to professional leagues, helping them gain an edge over their competition.

Rehabilitation Specialist

Rehabilitation Specialists focus on helping athletes recover from injuries. They design and implement therapeutic programs that target specific injuries, assisting athletes in regaining strength and mobility. In addition to physical therapy techniques, they may also incorporate nutritional advice and mental health support into their recovery plans.

Orthopedic Clinical Specialist

This specialization involves working directly with orthopedic patients, including athletes who have suffered musculoskeletal injuries. An Orthopedic Clinical Specialist has advanced knowledge in evaluating and treating conditions like fractures, sprains, strains, and arthritis. They often work in conjunction with doctors and surgeons to provide comprehensive care for their patients.

Strength and Conditioning Specialist

A Strength and Conditioning Specialist focuses on improving an athlete's physical power and endurance. They design workout programs that optimize muscle development, cardiorespiratory fitness, and overall athletic performance. These professionals often work with teams or individual athletes across various sports.

Sports Nutritionist

While not solely limited to athletic training, the role of a Sports Nutritionist is vital in the overall career path. These professionals provide dietary advice tailored to athletes' specific needs, helping them maintain optimal performance levels and recover from intense workouts. They can guide athletes on meal planning, supplement usage, and hydration strategies.

Athletic Director

Athletic Directors often work in educational settings, overseeing the athletic department of schools or colleges. Their responsibilities may include hiring coaches, organizing sports events, managing budgets, and ensuring compliance with athletic regulations. While this role involves more administrative tasks, a background in athletic training can be very beneficial. Each of these specializations offers a unique approach to supporting athletes and promoting optimal performance. Depending on their interests and career goals, athletic trainers can choose to specialize in one or more of these areas, allowing them to provide targeted support to the athletes they work with.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market for athletic trainers is currently experiencing a surge in growth, providing a promising outlook for individuals interested in this career path. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of athletic trainers is projected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This rise is attributed to a heightened awareness of sports-related injuries, health and safety measures, and the increasing demand in settings beyond traditional athletic organizations.

Industries Driving Demand

Several industries are driving this demand, each presenting unique opportunities for athletic trainers. The healthcare sector leads this charge, particularly within hospitals and rehabilitation centers where athletic trainers are employed to aid in patient recovery. Schools and universities also employ a significant number of athletic trainers to ensure the well-being of their student-athletes and to provide immediate on-site care during sporting events. Professional sports organizations and fitness centers represent another key sector. Here, athletic trainers work closely with athletes, helping them improve performance, manage injuries, and maintain overall health. Similarly, corporate settings are also increasingly recognizing the value of having athletic trainers as part of their wellness programs.

Geographic Factors

Geographic factors also play a role in the job market and outlook for athletic trainers. States with a high concentration of schools, universities, and professional sports teams often have a higher demand for athletic trainers. Similarly, areas with a dense population or a large healthcare sector may offer more opportunities.

Advancements and Opportunities

Advancements in sports medicine and technology open up new avenues for athletic trainers. Innovations such as data analytics in injury prevention and performance enhancement present exciting opportunities for those in this field. Furthermore, there is an increasing focus on preventative care in healthcare settings, which translates into greater need for the expertise of athletic trainers.

Job Competition and Requirements

While the job market is growing, competition for athletic trainer positions can be strong, particularly in prestigious settings like professional sports. To stand out, candidates need to have a strong educational foundation typically requiring a bachelor’s degree in athletic training or a related field. Some positions may require a master's degree or specific certifications. Continued professional development is also important in this field. Staying current with the latest techniques and practices in sports medicine and injury prevention can enhance an athletic trainer’s job prospects and career advancement opportunities. In conclusion, the job market and outlook for athletic trainers is positive, driven by increasing demand across various sectors. With the right qualifications, continued education, and a commitment to the profession, individuals can look forward to a rewarding career in athletic training.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Salary and Compensation

The field of athletic training offers a rewarding career path for individuals with a passion for sports, fitness, and healthcare. As an Athletic Trainer, your salary and compensation will be influenced by several factors including your level of education, years of experience, geographical location, and the specific industry in which you work.

Education and Experience

Athletic Trainers typically require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in athletic training or a related field. However, many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), nearly 70% of Athletic Trainers have a master's or doctoral degree. The level of experience is another significant factor that influences an Athletic Trainer’s salary. Entry-level Athletic Trainers can expect to earn a lower salary compared to those with several years of experience. As you gain more experience and expertise in the field, your earning potential increases.

Geographical Location

The geographical location also plays a crucial role in determining an Athletic Trainer’s salary. For instance, Athletic Trainers working in metropolitan areas where the cost of living is higher tend to earn more compared to those working in rural areas. Additionally, certain states or regions may have a higher demand for Athletic Trainers, which could result in higher salaries.


The specific industry in which you work also impacts your salary as an Athletic Trainer. Those working in professional sports or colleges and universities often earn higher salaries compared to those working in high schools or rehabilitation centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for Athletic Trainers was $48,440 as of May 2019. The highest 10 percent earned more than $73,470.

Additional Compensation

In addition to base salary, Athletic Trainers may also receive additional compensation such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and tuition reimbursement. Some Athletic Trainers may also have opportunities to earn bonuses or profit-sharing based on their performance or the success of the team or organization they work for. It's worth noting that continued education and professional development can also increase your earning potential as an Athletic Trainer. By obtaining advanced certifications or specializations, you can differentiate yourself in the job market and potentially command a higher salary. Remember, while salary is an important aspect of any career, it’s also essential to consider job satisfaction and the impact you’re making on others’ health and wellbeing. As an Athletic Trainer, you’ll have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in athletes' lives by helping them stay healthy and perform at their best.

Athletic Trainer Career Path Tips for Success

As an aspiring athletic trainer, you may be wondering how to navigate your way to success in this dynamic and rewarding field. The journey to becoming a successful athletic trainer requires dedication, continuous learning, and practical experience. Here are some valuable tips that can guide you towards a thriving career as an athletic trainer.

Acquiring the Right Education

The first step on your path to becoming an athletic trainer is acquiring a solid educational foundation. You need to earn a bachelor’s degree in athletic training or a related field from an accredited institution. Some of the coursework you can expect to cover includes anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and kinesiology. To further boost your career prospects, consider pursuing a master's degree in athletic training or sports medicine. This advanced level of education allows you to specialize in a specific area of interest and prepares you for leadership roles within the profession.

Obtaining Certification and Licensure

Once you've completed your education, the next step is to obtain certification and licensure. In the United States, for instance, athletic trainers must pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam. This nationally recognized certification verifies your competence in the field and is a prerequisite for licensure in most states. Additionally, maintaining your certification requires ongoing professional development and adherence to a code of professional responsibility. This not only ensures that you stay abreast of the latest industry trends but also upholds the standards and ethics of the profession.

Gaining Practical Experience

Practical experience is a crucial component of any successful athletic training career path. As part of your undergraduate or graduate program, you'll likely complete clinical rotations in various settings such as high schools, colleges, hospitals, or sports medicine clinics. These experiences give you hands-on exposure to real-world scenarios and allow you to apply what you've learned in the classroom. Volunteering or interning at a local sports team or clinic can also provide invaluable experience. These opportunities not only enhance your skills but also help you build a professional network that could be beneficial in your future career.

Developing Essential Skills

Beyond formal education and practical experience, successful athletic trainers possess a range of essential skills. Good communication is vital as you'll be working closely with athletes, coaches, and other healthcare professionals. Being able to clearly explain treatment plans and injury prevention strategies is crucial. Problem-solving and decision-making skills are also important, especially when it comes to assessing injuries and devising appropriate treatment plans. Additionally, being compassionate and having the ability to motivate others can make a significant difference in the recovery process of injured athletes.

Continuing Education and Specialization

The field of athletic training is constantly evolving, making continuing education a key aspect of your career success. By attending seminars, workshops, and conferences, you can stay updated with the latest advancements in sports medicine and rehabilitation techniques. Furthermore, specializing in a particular area such as pediatrics, orthopedics, or neurology can set you apart from other professionals in the field. Not only does this allow you to focus on an area that interests you, but it also increases your marketability to potential employers. Following these tips can help pave the way to a successful career as an athletic trainer. Remember that success doesn't come overnight – it requires patience, persistence, and a passion for helping others reach their athletic potential.

What is an Athletic Trainer?

An athletic trainer is a certified and licensed healthcare professional who collaborates with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. They work with athletes of all levels from amateur to professional, and their main goal is to prevent, diagnose, and treat muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.

What does an Athletic Trainer do?

Athletic trainers typically provide physical therapy and training services to athletes. They are trained to recognize, treat, and prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Athletic trainers are usually one of the first healthcare providers on the scene when injuries occur, and they are often responsible for getting an injured athlete medical attention. Other tasks include developing injury prevention strategies, implementing treatment protocols, tracking injury recovery, and advising on returning to sports after an injury.

What education is required to become an Athletic Trainer?

To become an athletic trainer, you need at least a bachelor's degree in athletic training from an accredited institution. However, as of 2022, the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) has mandated that all entry-level athletic training education programs be at the master’s level. This means that aspiring athletic trainers will need a master's degree in athletic training or a related field. Coursework typically includes anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, and principles of athletic training.

What skills are needed to be an Athletic Trainer?

An effective athletic trainer should have excellent communication skills to accurately explain complex health issues to athletes and coaches. They should also have good interpersonal skills to build trust with athletes and help them feel comfortable during treatment. Other critical skills include problem-solving abilities to figure out the best way to help an athlete recover from an injury, detail-oriented nature to track an athlete's progress over time, and physical stamina as the job often requires standing for long periods and supporting athletes during workouts or rehabilitation.

What is the job outlook for Athletic Trainers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of athletic trainers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As people become more aware of sports-related injuries at a young age, demand for athletic trainers is expected to increase.

What is the salary for an Athletic Trainer?

The median annual wage for athletic trainers was $48,440 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $73,470. Salaries can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years spent in the profession.

What is the career path of an Athletic Trainer?

After obtaining a bachelor's degree, aspiring athletic trainers should pursue a master's degree in athletic training or a related field. After graduation, they need to pass the Board of Certification (BOC) exam to become certified athletic trainers. They can then start working in high schools, colleges, or professional sports teams. With experience, they can move into roles such as head athletic trainer, athletic director, or consultant. Some athletic trainers also decide to pursue a doctorate degree and become educators in the field.