Putting Health & Safety Front & Center With NATA

Founded in 1950, the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) is a professional membership association for certified athletic trainers and others who support the profession. With 45,000 members worldwide, NATA provides opportunities for professional growth through continuing education, improves care through research and the promotion of best practices, advocates for legislation to advance the profession and allows members to network with other athletic trainers worldwide.

So, what exactly is an athletic trainer?

According to NATA, athletic trainers, or ATs, are highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who render service or treatment under the direction of or in collaboration with a physician, in accordance with their education, training, and the statutes, rules and regulations of their state. They are health care professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. They aim to prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and they provide immediate care for acute injuries.

Sometimes confused with personal trainers, athletic trainers experience a very different educational path and practice quite different job duties. The academic curriculum required to become an athletic trainer follows the medical model, with clinical training required. NATA states that the majority—70%—of ATs have a master's degree.

While we typically think of professional or collegiate sports when we think about the careers of athletic trainers, they actually help prevent and treat injuries in a much wider array of venues. In fact, in 2016, NATA launched a public awareness campaign called At Your Own Risk that aims to educate parents, student athletes, school administrators, legislators and employers on the role of an athletic trainer in prevention and safety. Some of the areas for outreach include the armed forces, community colleges, occupational health, performing arts and secondary schools, among others.

As NATA states on its website, "Without an athletic trainer, you are left to face the inherent safety risks of living, working and engaging in athletics all on your own. By employing an athletic trainer you provide a safer approach to work, life and sport."

Recently, NATA dedicated an issue of its scientific journal, the Journal of Athletic Training, to work-life balance topics, publishing a new study comparing the work-life experiences of athletic employees. The research included a review if work-life literature from the sports industry, focusing on coaches, athletic trainers, athletes and other sports personnel, according to Allison Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor of Sports Leadership and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and author of the study.

Major findings from the study included:

  • Seasonality, high time requirements, travel, irregular scheduling, requirements for face time, lack of autonomy and lack of staff all present challenges to those working in the sports industry.
  • Various influences can cause challenges, including sociocultural (gender expectations), organizational (level of administrative support) and individual (role salience).
  • Multiple studies suggest that those working in athletics experience high levels of work-life conflict regardless of sex, marital status, family status or job position.
  • Common coping strategies include utilizing organization and individual tactics, such as cultivating a family-friendly work culture, building support networks at work and away from work, improving planning and organizational skills, creating strict priorities, integrating work and personal life when possible, and building boundaries between work and personal life activities as needed.

"The focus on performance, competition and winning in sports has significant repercussions for those working in the sports industry," Smith said. "Understanding the theoretical and practical sides of the work-life balance will continue to be useful in creating successful and manageable work and non-work commitments and improving overall quality of life. We hope this study serves as a springboard for further discussion and development of solutions to create that important balance."