Star athletes don't get faster, stronger and healthier by heading to a Zumba class at the local gym. Millions of dollars are on the line, so they get all the professional help they can from athletic trainers. Working as an athletic trainer means devoting your days to helping athletes recover from injuries, avoid future injuries and perform at their absolute peak. Athletic training jobs can be rewarding and challenging, but they're tough to get – this is professional sports, so the field is competitive.
Athletic trainers are experts in exercise and sports performance. They work one-on-one with players in all fields of athletics, from team sports like football and hockey to individual sports like gymnastics and soccer. Basically, a professional athletic trainer helps athletes safely improve their performance and stay in playing shape. They design exercise programs that are exactly tailored to each person's needs; for example, a trainer can help an athlete build more grip strength or jump higher by creating a specific plan of exercises to do each day. They're on-site while athletes work out in the team's training facility.
Trainers also help athletes rehab injuries safely, and teach them ways to exercise and perform that will minimize wear and tear on their bodies. A trainer may also create meal plans for athletes to follow on practice days, game days and off days. Because trainers spend a lot of time with elite athletes, they may also provide emotional support and encouragement that motivates their clients to do their very best.
It takes more than just a love of sports and exercise to become a professional athletic trainer. A trainer who works with elite athletes must have a bachelor's degree in athletic training or a field like human anatomy or exercise science. If the degree is in something other than athletic training, the candidate will generally need a master's degree in athletic training. Each state also has certification requirements for athletic training jobs.
Professional sports teams are cagey about how much they pay their athletic trainers. The median sports trainer salary is $46,630 per year, which means half of trainers earn more and half earn less – but that represents all athletic trainers. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association's 2016 salary survey, the average NFL athletic trainer salary is the highest out of all professional sports. As of 2016, trainers above the 75th percentile – that is, those who earn more than 75 percent of other NFL trainers – earned more than $181,250 per year. Trainers above the 75th percentile in other sports earned more than $66,250 working for professional baseball teams, more than $73,500 working for professional hockey teams and more than $60,000 working for men's basketball teams.
Athletic trainers don't only work for professional sports teams. Some are employed in high schools that have serious sports programs. Others work with college athletes. Athletic trainers may work on a freelance basis, helping anyone who's willing to pay for their services. For those trainers who do work in professional sports, the hours can be grueling. Trainers often travel with the team and are expected to be on-call during off hours.
Years of Experience
Professional teams often employ multiple trainers, so one team might have several assistant trainers and a head trainer. Getting to that supervisory position generally takes years of experience, and because teams are so competitive with one another, the top guys can command very generous salaries. But this is a niche industry, so no conclusive data shows the link between years of experience and average salary.
Job Growth Trend
Professional sports are only becoming more competitive, so the athletic training industry is unlikely to shrink in coming years. In fact, the industry as a whole is projected to grow by 23 percent between 2016 and 2026. However, there are only a set number of pro teams out there, so these jobs will continue to be highly sought after among elite trainers.