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Finding Your Fit: Working in Professional Sports

Photographer: Jonathan Heisler, Hofstra University Photographer
Want to break into professional sports as an athletic trainer? Here’s an inside look into what it takes.

What does it take to be an athletic trainer for a professional team? As you might imagine, these jobs are relatively few in number and highly coveted – meaning only athletic trainers at the top of their field make the cut. Only about 2% of all athletic trainers – and 3% of NATA members – work for professional teams. Professional sports trainers work for teams in major leagues like the NBA, NFL, MBA, and NHL, but also in the minor leagues.

If this is your passion, you may want to consider becoming a member of an organization like the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, or an organization focused on athletic training for a particular sport. There are specialized associations for athletic trainers who want to work in professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer. These organizations have strong ties to professional sports teams and are great for ongoing training and networking opportunities. But if your goal is to work in professional sports you should start your networking while still in school.

Take Megan Patierno, a graduate of Hofstra’s Athletic Training program (class of 2018) for example; Megan is one of the first female students to be chosen for a paid, postgraduate athletic training internship with the New York Jets. She credits this incredible opportunity to strong mentorship from Hofstra Softball Head Coach Larissa Anderson and two professors in the Department of Health Professions. “Jayne and Kristin recommended me for the opportunity and were instrumental in helping me get my foot in the door,” says Megan. “Athletic training really wasn’t considered a profession for women. They’ve worked in the field for 20 years and pioneered the athletic training program at Hofstra and have always encouraged and supported me in my studies.”

Hofstra helps their students log hours in clinical settings. In fact, Megan has done athletic training rotations with three Hofstra sports teams, Molloy College’s softball team, and Nassau Community College’s football team, as well as a physical therapy rotation with ProHealth. She was able to log more than 1,000 hours of clinical experience while still at Hofstra. “I’ve built a large network of professionals in my field,” says Megan, “and hope to continue to make connections at my internship and beyond.” With so much competition for jobs with professional sports teams, the relationships you build in school and in your career are absolutely vital.

The Life of a Professional Sports Trainer is Rewarding – and Stressful

A career as a professional sports trainer isn’t for everyone. Game days are the highlights, and that’s usually what aspiring sports trainers dream about – but as with any job, there are parts that aren’t so glamorous. A career in professional sports training promises plenty of stressful situations, tough calls, late nights, and a lot of travel.

But professional sports training also promises the rewards of working directly with professional athletes, mitigating their risk of injury, helping them recover faster, and supporting their intense training regimens. Sometimes it means saying ‘no’ to an athlete who desperately wants to get back out on the field. Above all, life as a professional sports trainer requires a real dedication to your job, team, and the wellness of the athletes you serve.

Opportunities – and Salaries – Are Growing for Athletic Trainers

If that sounds like part of the excitement, then you’re in good company. You’re also in luck, because from a financial standpoint, demand for athletic trainers is growing – and so is the salary.

Burning Glass projects 21.3% growth in athletic training positions nationwide through 2027–that’s nearly 3 times the average growth of all jobs–and the trend is expected to hold over the next eight years. While only a fraction of those will be for professional sports teams, that also means plenty of opportunities to get started in your career. For example, positions with college teams are a great stepping stone as you build your experience, hone your skills, and grow your network.

Starting salaries for athletic trainers working for professional sports teams vary widely, and how much you can expect to make over the course of your career depends partially on the sport, league, and team you work for – in addition to your level of experience.

That discrepancy can be large. According to NATA, athletic trainers working for professional football teams are some of the most highly paid in all professional sports. Those above the 75th percentile – that is, athletic trainers who earn more than 75% of other professional football trainers – earned more than $181,250 per year. Those in the 25th percentile, many of whom are just getting started in their careers, earn $30,225 per year, though the average national salary of graduates of Hofstra’s program earn $41,569.

Becoming a Professional Sports Trainer Starts with a Great Academic Program

While there’s no one path to becoming a professional sports trainer, there are a few things you can do to make yourself stand out. First, don’t underestimate an exceptional education. When researching schools, make sure you’re looking at programs built on a solid foundation of practice and theory in accordance with professional organizations and accreditation bodies. For example, the Athletic Training program at Hofstra meet the training competencies laid out by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Executive Committee on Education and the requirements established by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).

Athletic Training at Hofstra

Interested in learning more about a degree in athletic training? Check out Hofstra’s Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training program, where you can discover more about the program’s curriculum, requirements, and graduation rates. Or request more information on our program.

National area labor market data retrieved from Burning Glass Technologies in March 2019

The numbers don’t lie: The field of athletic training is experiencing explosive growth. The Bureau of Labor projects jobs in athletic training will grow 23% through 2026, more than three times faster than the average occupation in large part because of changing demographics.

Unlike personal trainers, people who study athletic training follow a medical model including a clinical education and is recognized as a healthcare profession. In fact, athletic training as a field of study is recognized by the American Medical Association, Health Resources Services Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, which helps qualify athletic training graduates for many jobs in the healthcare field.

A degree in athletic training can set you upon a number of career paths, from working in a hospital setting to employment with some of the nation’s most prestigious sports teams. Though average athletic trainer salary currently sits at just over $55,000 per year, that number can be expected to rise as demand for healthcare professionals increases, and overall salaries range between $38-83,000 nationwide.

Athletic trainers must graduate from an accredited program such as Hofstra’s BS in Athletic Training which is designed to meet the entry-level athletic training competencies and proficiencies identified by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Executive Committee on Education and is in line with the requirements established by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).


So what can you do with a degree from an athletic training program? Here are five of the most popular careers paths stemming from this one degree:

Professional Sports Trainer

It’s fair to say that the goal of many students in athletic training programs is to work for a major league sports team. And why not? A position with a sports team carries a high level of prestige, while allowing practitioners to be on the cutting edge of their profession. In addition to possessing a solid understanding of all the concepts that go into athletic training – nutrition, anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, just to name a few – you must also be skilled at networking in order to land a job with professional sports team. That’s why the best athletic training programs are linked with a robust career services department.  

School and Intercollegiate Athletics Trainer

Just like professional athletes, athletic trainers often to have to work their way up to the top through the school and college ranks. However, a position with a college sports organization might be just as lucrative for an athletic trainer. One huge benefit is that there are significantly more school and college teams throughout the country than professional sports teams, and while still intense, the competition for an athletic trainer position would be more manageable. The experience you can gain with a school or college sports program is invaluable, and can propel you on your career path towards whatever ultimate goal you have in mind.

Performing Arts Trainer

If you’re more of a creative-type than a sports fan, you may want to consider a career as an athletic trainer for the performing arts. The two areas in the performing arts with the most need for athletic trainers are on the stage and on the screen – namely, dancers and stuntmen. Both typically need immediate, on-site medical care to treat any injuries that occur during a performance, as well as performing preventative care. The care you provide will help lower costs, making you a valued, behind-the-scenes resource for the production company.

Athletic Trainers for the Military

An exciting new career opportunity is to work with the military. Certified athletic trainers have been increasingly employed by the armed forces to teach proper form to troops and prevent injuries. Simply search one of the civilian military job sites for a specific branch such as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard for some of the more common military job codes associated with athletic training. Note that each branch of the military has their own hiring process and policies, and some will hire only civilians or contractors to work as athletic trainers, so be sure to search civilian sites as well.

Sports Medicine Clinician

An orthopedic urgent care center is just one example of a non-hospital medical setting where an athletic training education can help you quickly move up the ranks, while also helping out patients in need of critical care who cannot otherwise see an orthopedist. Since athletic trainers are experts in injury triage, they’re a perfect fit for urgent care centers where patients suffer from sports-related or sports-type injuries like sprains, fractures, dislocations, and joint damage. In this role, athletic trainers can provide patients with acute care and education, which may help the patient avoid having to see a sub-specialist or physical therapist. This alone is a huge benefit to the patient, as it could save them a significant amount of time and money.Interested in learning more about a degree in athletic training? Check out Hofstra’s Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training program, where you can discover more about the program’s curriculum, requirements, and graduation rates. Or request more information on our program.