Sports medicine class offerings have been around in high schools in a variety of formats for many years. Traditionally, this class is created by a certified/licensed athletic trainer employed by the high school to increase his or her visibility within the school, to improve health care for athletes by educating or creating a course that closely assimilates a first aid course.
These courses vary tremendously in their offerings. Some may incorporate a hands-on oriented course that teaches skills which allow students to help during team events and practices. Others simply have a few students enrolled in an athletic period, allowing them to assist and observe, while occasionally showing them a new skill or technique. A few states have created their own curriculums to incorporate into course offerings. The philosophies envisioned while creating these courses vary greatly from state to state with regard to exposing students to various aspects of healthcare professions.
For this reason, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Secondary School’s Athletic Training Committee (NATA SSATC) created the Sports Medicine Course Guidelines to assist with establishing continuity in sports medicine education across the country. This decision was prompted by the release of the Student Aide position statement by the NATA to encourage appropriate use of student aides.
These guidelines help show schools and athletic trainers that it is possible to create programs in high schools that encourage growth in the field of sports medicine and educate the masses, while not putting students in a position to perform duties or skills that they are not legally nor emotionally prepared to execute.
The NATA SSATC Sports Medicine Course guidelines are knowledge-based, not skills-based. Students will learn a variety of information, including but not limited to the history of the field, the types of careers that fall under the sports medicine heading, legal and ethical concepts, sports nutrition, fitness and physiological adaptations to conditioning, basic types of injuries, environmental illness, emergency response and psychology of injury.
The curriculum is intended to expose students, not only to the duties and responsibilities of an athletic trainer, but to a plethora of health-care related fields as well. It should be noted that this course is not designed to instruct high school students in the skills required to be a licensed athletic trainer, nor is it meant to be a replacement for an actual licensed athletic trainer on a school campus. In fact, a licensed athletic trainer employed by the school is the best person to teach this program.
In any given school district, there are four consumers to be considered: the Community, School District, Athlete and Student. This program can be a benefit to many. The community benefits from having an abundance of its youth looking into a medical field who will be happy to return “home” after college to work in the hospitals, offices or even schools because of the relationships that will be forged with local medical personnel.
The school district benefits in a number of ways. First, this program creates opportunities for schools to not only hire an athletic trainer but also to help grow their own athletic training programs with the goal of improving the overall safety of their athletic programs. Schools that provide no health care to their athletes finally have an avenue to help them hire the staff they need. Second, if the program is housed in the Career and Technical Education Department, the school can benefit from state funding to support the program on campus. Lastly, there will be a significant increase in students carrying first aid and CPR/AED certifications on campus.
The Student-Athletes benefit by having additional eyes and ears to help monitor dangerous warning signs of life-threatening injuries such as head injury or heat stroke that may go unnoticed simply because there are not enough licensed athletic trainers to provide care for the large number of athletes spread across campus. While these students should not be treating injuries beyond the realm of first aid, they can be taught to watch for signs and symptoms of various illnesses, alerting the athletic trainer of a potentially serious situation.
The student benefits from exposure to another career possibility within the healthcare field, thereby increasing interest in collegiate programs. In addition to the increased depth of education this program provides, students are able to gain hours of observation, thereby increasing their chances of gaining entrance into increasing competitive accredited collegiate/university health-care curriculums. This early experience will help to differentiate the students from the rest of the multitude of applicants. Students coming out of these programs have a more realistic vision of the field of athletic training. As a result, when they are accepted, these students are less likely to drop out because of the overwhelming realization that this is so much more than they expected.
The guidelines are available for states to use as they see fit. While some have official programs recognized by the state, not all states have such a designation. Therefore, schools may find themselves in a position to create their own guidelines. These guidelines are meant to act as a foundation for a school or state to build upon. They can be used as is or can be modified to suit state requirements.
By creating this course, schools have a cost-effective way to hire a licensed athletic trainer to increase the safety of their student-athletes while expanding the educational offerings to students. The profession is more available to the community’s youth in an appropriate manner, providing students with increased exposure to the field, and enhancing these students as competitive candidates for collegiate level programs. In a time when budgets are tight and trends in education are unpredictable, it’s safe to say that all stakeholders within your school district benefit from implementation of this program.
Kembra Mathis has been a certified athletic trainer for 20 years and has been with Bentonville (Arkansas) Public Schools for the last 11 years, where she teaches sports medicine at Bentonville West High School. Mathis is currently serving as the president of the Arkansas Athletic Trainers Association.
Larry Cooper is the former chair of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) Secondary School Athletic Trainers Committee (SSATC). He is presently a teacher and certified athletic trainer at Penn Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pennsylvania. He has 35 years of experience within the secondary school setting as a teacher and certified athletic trainer. He is a former member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.