True Team Players – Common Misconceptions about Athletic Trainers

common misconceptions about athletic trainersBy William Mathiowdis, ATC

Editor’s Note: I grew up playing five sports and played soccer in college. While I remember most of my friends, teammates and coaches from various teams, I remember almost all of my athletic trainers, too. They ran out to the soccer field and carried me off, rode in an ambulance with me, waited in the hospital to make sure I was okay, guided me through physical therapy, laughed with me, cried with me and listened to me complain about how sore or tired I was; they were just as part of the team as anyone wearing a uniform. I admired the way my athletic trainers treated every person they cared for with compassion and respect, developing a unique relationship with each athlete. During Athletic Trainer Awareness Month and every day – thank you athletic trainers for the ways you care for others, keep so many of us healthy, safe and able (even when that means telling us no because we need more time to heal) and empower athletes to be their best! 

Athletic trainers are most often thought of for taping ankles, making bags of ice and filling up the team’s water coolers. But what is often misunderstood about athletic trainers is the skill, expertise and passion that goes into keeping individuals healthy and active. Despite many misconceptions, athletic trainers are a vital member of a person’s or athlete’s care team.

Athletic trainers serve on the front lines, providing immediate care when needed. Here in western North Carolina, athletic trainers with Mission Sports Medicine serve our active youth sports teams in our region and help care for individuals with fitness-related injuries.

Misconception: Athletic trainers only tape and ice.

Yes, we do tape and ice – but our skillset and education empower us to do much more. Athletic trainers are highly qualified, multi-skilled healthcare professionals. We work alongside physicians and physical therapists to diagnose, treat, rehabilitate and prevent emergent, acute or chronic injuries and medical conditions. We work in many different settings – from hospitals to physician clinics, middle schools to high schools, colleges to professional athletics, as well as industrial settings and even the military.

Athletic trainers brace and cast orthopedic injuries, provide wound care, assist with obtaining patient histories to communicate with providers and provide patient education to help manage injuries and do rehabilitation exercises.

Misconception: Athletic trainers are personal trainers.

While the names of the professions are similar, there is a significant difference in the education, skillset, job duties and patients for an athletic trainer and a personal trainer. Athletic trainers must have a bachelor’s degree in athletic training – more than 70 percent also have a master’s degree. As a part of our training, we are educated to provide comprehensive and evidence-based patient care in prevention and health promotion, emergency care, treatment and rehabilitation, as well as organization and professional health and wellbeing.

Personal trainers generally have a certification, but do not have education and training in patient care, which is required for athletic training.

Misconception: Athletic trainers only care for football athletes.

Athletic trainers care for all kinds of athletes in every sport. In high schools, there is typically a single athletic trainer for an entire athletic department. All athletes have shared access to the athletic trainer for medical care, but depending on school’s regulatory agency (such as NCHSAA, NCAA), the athletic trainer may be required to be on the sidelines for certain high-risk events, such as football.

While we do care for football athletes, you’ll find us courtside at tennis matches and basketball games, in the dugout at baseball games and on the sidelines at soccer and track for men’s and women’s teams.

Misconception: Athletic trainers only work in professional, collegiate and secondary school athletes.

You’ll find athletic trainers in a variety of settings caring for athletes of all ages. We work in physician offices, military and industrial settings and care for school-aged, early adult, middle adult and late adult individuals who are physically active. We care for a diverse patient population and see many different injuries, providing care based on each patient’s desired goal or outcome.

Athletic trainers care for patients of all ages and activity levels, whether they are helping an injured high school athlete reach their athletic potential or helping an older patient be able to walk pain-free.


Willian Mathiowdis is a certified athletic trainer for Mission Sports Medicine, and provides services for Angel Orthopaedic Associates, Franklin High School and Franklin Middle School.

Sports medicine is the field of medicine dealing with fitness, injury treatment and prevention and wellness as it relates to sports. Sports medicine providers strive to maximize function and minimize injury in athletes and other physically active individuals, by focusing on strength training, conditioning and healthy lifestyles. Mission Sports Medicine forms our region’s most comprehensive sports medicine program for athletes with 17 board certified sports medicine physicians, 9 fellowship trained sports medicine physicians and more than 45 additional sub-specialists. Learn more about Mission Sports Medicine [1].