By Sophia Pollalis
March is National Athletic Training Month as well as National Women’s History Month, so I thought I’d share a little of this woman’s history with athletic training. I have wanted to be an athletic trainer since I was a sophomore in high school. My mom had persuaded me to see that I was not going to be on the US women’s national soccer team because I got injured too often and let’s face it, I was no child prodigy. I spent a lot of time in the athletic training room doing rehabilitation for injuries, getting ice after practice or games, and soaking up everything. I got a good idea of what an athletic trainer did and their involvement in sports. When I sprained my MCL my sophomore year, I already knew what was wrong with me before I went to the doctor. I had done all the research, looked at the anatomy, read about the mechanism of injury. Needless to say, the doctor was impressed (toot toot!). While my story is my own, the context is not unique; many athletic trainers have the same origin story of being an athlete, being injured, and having their first experience with athletic training.
Athletic training is a catch-all profession; we are Jacks of all trades, MacGyver, artists, allied healthcare professionals. We are required to take a national certification exam to demonstrate competencies in evidence-based practice, prevention of injury, health promotion, clinical examination, acute care of injury and illness, therapeutic interventions, psychosocial strategies, health care administration, and professional development and responsibilities. Athletic training as a profession has been recognized by the American Medical Association since 1991. We work with people who move their bodies from age 5 to 105 in settings from schools and pro sports to the workplace. We are finding other places our skillset can serve all the time, like the military.
I currently work in the high school setting. It’s a small school and I know 90% of my athletes by name, even if they haven’t stepped foot in the athletic training facility. If you asked me what task I performed the most, it would be cleaning up blood and covering wounds. The second most common thing I do is listen when an athlete comes into my room after a tough day. Which is every day. Hellooooooo high school students.
Not every day is as easy as listening to kids and cleaning up a little blood. Some days I’m watching wrestling sitting on the edge of my seat praying that shoulder doesn’t dislocate. Some days I’m cradling an athlete’s head in my arms stabilizing their c-spine because they took a head-to-head hit and they can’t feel their legs. Some days my heart is breaking for my athlete who had their senior year taken from them because they tore their ACL. And some days I spend the entire afternoon doing paperwork and coming up with rehab programs. Our days are truly a box of chocolates. Athletic trainers are always expecting the worst, ready to take action when they happen, and there to feel the feels with the team whether they win state or lose a family member.
This unique relationship between athletic trainer and athlete brings trust and closeness. Being caretakers and having just about anything you could imagine in our human repair kits, many of the female variety athletic trainer report being called “mom.”
Women have become a large percentage of the population of NATA members; in fact, the 2018 count had women at 56% of members while in 1996 we only counted 44%. While we can only speculate, this shift is likely to come from increased exposure of athletic training to young female athletes, the increase of female athletes, and the ability of athletic trainers to work more “traditional” hours. We are also expanding and breaking the glass ceilings that seemed unattainable for so long. If you watched any TV around Super Bowl time this year, you probably saw a tablet commercial featuring Katie Sowers, the first female coach at the Super Bowl. She wasn’t the only female making a first at the Super Bowl; Laura McCabe provided care for the 49ers, Tiffany Morton and Julie Frymyer for the Chiefs These are huge positions of visibility that allow what seemed to be a dream for a child (or professional) to become a reality.
Women in athletic training are making huge strides across the nation. While we have never been discouraged to become athletic trainers, we have certainly met limitations. In 2010, women represented close to 50% of assistant, associate, or graduate assistant athletic trainers at the D1 level5. However, women held less than 20% of head athletic trainer positions. Those that did become head athletic trainers did so due to their persistence and strong leadership skills. We will always have work-life balance as an obstacle to the highest reaches of our profession, just as men do. However, until women can be universally supported in the prospect of having a family and a time-consuming head athletic position, we will not obtain an even split or majority of head positions.
5. The Experiences of Female Athletic Trainers in the Role of Head Athletic Trainer. Journal of Athletic Training 2015; 50(1): 71-81. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-49.3.50