While athletic trainers are becoming common in more and more high schools, the reality is that only one-third of schools have full-time athletic trainers, and 30 percent have no athletic trainer at all. A new study provides insight into the reasons why.
Titled “Athletic Directors’ Barriers to Hiring Athletic Trainers in High School” and appearing in the October issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the study asked athletic directors at high schools without athletic trainers about the absence of these sports medicine professionals. The researchers identified five main factors. Not surprisingly, budgets were a big one.
“I know it’s important. I’ve reflected that to our school board, but once again, we’re in a time right now where schools just don’t have any money,” one of the respondents said. “… we’re laying off teachers; so if you’re laying off teachers, it’s hard to hire an athletic trainer even though one lawsuit will cover the cost of an athletic trainer, but it’s hard for a school board to justify that when they’re laying off teachers."
"It was financial, period, financial,” said another. “Everything that evolves at this school relates to money, nothing more than that. They understand the value of everything that’s there for us, but the question is the ability to pay. Therefore, they prioritize, and they felt as though that was one that wasn’t important, which is untrue, but they didn’t feel as though they could afford it, so they cut it."
There are several non-budgetary issues as well. Athletic directors at some rural schools said there simply weren’t any athletic trainers around to hire.
“You know, we’ve never had an athletic trainer. We’ve had like physician’s assistants that have helped us out and things like that, but I mean, we’re pretty rural out here, and we don’t have athletic trainers. . . We do have one small school that’s, oh, about 110 miles away, and they have a volunteer athletic trainer. It’s just that I don’t know how we’d get someone to come out here.”
The researchers also reported that misconceptions over the role of athletic trainers was a factor in some cases. Athletic directors may feel that first aid training for coaches is sufficient or don’t consider the care an athletic trainer provides outside game coverage. This dovetailed with a finding that interference from the community may keep athletic trainers from being hired since other people are available to cover games.
"In this school district here in [my city], there are 5 people who work for the district as teachers and principals and myself as an AD who are all EMTs. We are at every sporting event that takes place, where there is soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, and volleyball, whatever. We always have at least 1 to 2 EMTs on scene with a kit."
The final factor may resonate most with athletic directors. Many of those interviewed said they fervently wanted to hire athletic trainers on staff but couldn’t convince upper-level administrators to let them. The study’s authors wrote:
When asked why their schools did not employ ATs, many ADs cited that their school boards did not believe an AT was a necessity despite the ADs’ opposing views on that need. Our ADs struggled to find the means to facilitate hiring of an AT when the school board members did not see value in adding those services to the budget.
The authors recommend that athletic directors continue to advocate for athletic training hires while also looking for ways to budget creatively, such as partnering with local hospitals and clinics or hiring newly credentialed or graduate assistant athletic trainers. They would like to see state legislatures step in to establish guidelines for care, which could also correct misconceptions about the role of athletic trainers.