Much has been made about the lack of certified athletic trainers on the sidelines of a large percentage of American high school athletic programs, and for good reason; not having an athletic trainer is akin to driving down the street without wearing a seatbelt and just hoping for the best. Now a new study from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) highlights just how bad that lack of trainers has become, as well as some of the critical issues that make it hard for athletic directors to hire them.
According to the study titled Athletic Directors’ Barriers to Hiring Athletic Trainers in High Schools, roughly two-thirds of American high schools do not employ a full-time athletic trainer, with 30 percent of American schools lacking any athletic trainer at all. That lack of trainers has a profound impact on the health of young athletes; 1.4 million American student athletes are injured each year during scholastic competition, with some of those injuries proving fatal. Notably, seven teenagers have died during the 2015 football season alone either during or after football games or practices.
While these deaths have led to a “crusade” for information and coordination among different groups trying to help, it should also highlight the glaring lack of athletic trainers available to many American schools.
“Most deaths that occur in sport are preventable and result from a failure to have proper prevention strategies in place, immediately recognize the condition, and/or implement appropriate care,” Douglas Casa, PhD, the chief executive officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut said in a NATA release. “Prompt management of these injuries is critical to the patient’s positive outcome and should be carried out by trained health care personnel, such as the athletic trainer, to minimize risk.”
Meanwhile, the October study highlighted five significant obstacles to the efforts of athletic directors to hire certified athletic trainers. While some, such as budgetary issues, may seem obvious, others such as a generalized misconception about the role and expertise of athletic trainers, are more nuanced. You can read more about the five obstacles in the study here, but in short here are the areas that must be addressed to improve the number of athletic trainers at American schools, according to NATA:
- Lack of Power: The AD does not have significant authority to hire a trainer or increase the budget to do so
- Budgetary Limitations: The AD does not have the funding to hire an athletic trainer, or any obvious mechanism to address that financial shortfall
- Rural Locations: Many schools are not in an area with enough medical professionals to make a high school-based or accessible athletic trainer possible
- Misconceptions About the Role of Athletic Trainers: Some athletic directors apparently believe that the first aid training provided to coaches is sufficient to deal with in-game injuries and medical incidents
- Community Interference: Essentially, this is the sense that volunteer medical services provided on site at many sites is sufficient and more cost effective
All of these issues provide difficulties for the needed spread of athletic trainers across America. And that, in turn, leaves young athletes at risk. There is hope that the new study will increase awareness and spark a renewed push to increase the number of athletic trainers at American schools. If it does, it can’t come soon enough.