What’s the role of an athletic trainer?

Professionals in helping athletes stay healthy and injury-free, they are a parent’s best sports friend

If your kid is a student-athlete, it’s time to get to know their athletic trainer. The role of an athletic trainer (AT) in all sports is to be a critical component to an athlete’s success — both on and off the field or court. ATs prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate injuries and illnesses ranging from minor to life-threatening. They often see thousands of athletes a year.

“The role of an athletic trainer includes being one of the first lines of defense against injury and the first person to lead the charge after injury,” said Tiff Haub, M.S., ATC/L, a certified athletic trainer and a manager with Norton Sports Health. “We work with coaches on practice habits and what can be done to prevent and reduce injuries in practice. We are the first ones on the field during a game-related injury.”

The relationship between the AT and parents

A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that most parents (72%) reported having no experience with ATs for their own injuries. A little more than half (60%) had experience with ATs as a result of their child’s involvement in a sport.

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“It means, more or less, that most parents really don’t know what an athletic trainer does, what their credentials are and how they are part of the professional team,” Tiff said. “We have training and specific expertise; we’re not just adults who happen to know how to tape an ankle.”


“The importance of communication between parents and ATs cannot be understated,” said Becky Clifton, M.S., ATC, LAT, CES, CKTP, HMS. Becky has been the head athletic trainer at Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, since 1991. “Sometimes a student-athlete will be having trouble at school, and we’ll hear about it before the parents do. Or the athlete is expressing something at home that we need to know about to better support their sports performance. We are — in the end — all part of the same team.”

Tips for parents

You want to work on building a good relationship with everyone involved, including trainers and coaches. That means acknowledging an AT’s professional credentials and experience.

“We all want the best for these kids,” Becky said. “So it’s important to create a unified front.”

Here are some more strategies to consider:

  1. Learn about the sport, including rules, history and major figures. Ask questions or ask for referrals to find your answers.
  2. Follow a parent code of conduct, which means respecting the coach, trainers and officials. It also means being a respectful spectator of the sport and expressing encouragement to athletes.
  3. Participate as appropriate. Go to parent meetings, ask questions and get to know the other adults in your child’s life. Let them get to know you and your family.
  4. Reinforce the trainer’s and coaches’ programs and expectations, such as being prepared for practice and following training protocols.

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