You're good at your job, but could you do it with tens of thousands of fans scrutinizing your every move? That's what professional sports teams' athletic trainers do every time they hit the field. "They need to make very logical, calculated judgments in an environment that may not be nice and quiet," says Larry Leverenz, PhD, clinical professor and director of athletic training education at Purdue University.
Athletic trainers for professional sports teams work to ensure the health and physical well-being of the players. John Worley, former head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Flyers National Hockey League team, would be with the team at home, on the road, at games and at practice. He was the first-care responder for any injuries, directing the initial stages of care.
Hats, Hats, Hats
Athletic trainers aren't limited to treating injuries. "You wear many hats when you're an athletic trainer with a professional team," Worley says. He supervised the care of sick players, worked with the team's nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach and coordinated any of the ancillary services the players used.
David Cohen, former head trainer for the Lowell Spinners, a minor league baseball team in Massachusetts, also had multiple responsibilities. "We take care of healthcare, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation and team travel as well as just about anything else you can think of," he says.
Even though Cohen would get the Spinners from city to city, coordinating meals and hotels, he says trainers used to do even more. "Thirty years ago, the trainer used to drive the bus and do the laundry," he says. "These days, that's not the case."
Unlike a hot NBA prospect, an athletic trainer can't turn pro before high school graduation. At a minimum, trainers must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and pass a certification exam from the National Athletic Trainers' Association. Many trainers also pursue master's degrees.
Athletic training students study 20 different subject areas, ranging from injury assessment to biomechanics to psychology. "It's a somewhat rigorous academic program," Leverenz says.
People Skills a Prerequisite
Good people skills are critical for athletic trainers who hope to work with pro athletes. "The guys have to be confident in our decision-making processes for them -- we're affecting their livelihoods," Worley says. "Your ability to relate to people and to be honest, sincere and trustworthy -- you can't fall short if you're a person who demonstrates that."
People skills also come in handy as aspiring trainers build their professional networks. While athletic training positions exist in high schools, colleges and clinics, Leverenz says getting a position with a professional sports team isn't easy. "You have to establish yourself doing some summer internship work," he says.
Networking was essential to Cohen's success. After a flurry of resumes sent to NFL teams generated a flurry of rejections, a professor told him, "It's who you know." He met someone in the Baltimore Orioles medical department who helped him get his first internship. "Two years later, I was working for him in the Gulf Coast League," he says. He advises students to look into the internships and shadowing opportunities offered through the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.
Having Fun Yet?
"If you're looking to go to work 9-to-5, then you're looking in the wrong career," Worley says. "It's truly a 24/7 job when we're in season." But for Worley, the rewards of his position outweighed the long hours. "It most definitely is a dream job...to be a contributor to having those guys play 82 games a season -- that's very rewarding."
Cohen agrees. "It's a great job, but you have to be prepared to come in, roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun. I can't think of a better job for me. Show me another job where you can get paid to travel around the country and watch baseball."
Learn more about sports careers.