Jan 29, 2015
Hands-On High Schools

Athletic training aide programs are a great way to teach high school students about sports medicine while helping you utilize your time with athletes more effectively. And by sparking new interest, they also help cultivate the profession’s next generation.

By Abigail Funk

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. She can be reached at: [email protected].

As Head Athletic Trainer at Ashland (Ky.) Blazer High School, AJ Stadelmeyer, MA, ATC, enjoys staying in touch with former high school students he’s seen come through the school’s athletic training aide program. Two of his former students just graduated from medical school, with one proclaiming that she’s going to be his team orthopedic surgeon someday. Another who became an athletic trainer recently told Stadelmeyer he’s going to replace him in a few years.

But Stadelmeyer isn’t ready to go anywhere just yet. He’d like to see a few more success stories come out of Ashland’s athletic training student aide program. “I’m really proud of those kids,” he says. “They got their start here with me at Ashland, which makes me feel really good. Our program is getting bigger and bigger–I now have middle school kids who want to help out, and even a fifth grader who fills water cups at basketball games.”

Dale Blair, MS, ATC, CSCS, Head Athletic Trainer at Wenatchee (Wash.) High School, has had similar experiences with his student aide program. “I go to conferences and see some of my former students in university polo shirts who are certified athletic trainers themselves,” he says. “It’s great to be a part of that.”

As interest in the athletic training profession grows, so does the number of high schools offering programs like Ashland’s and Wenatchee’s. And today’s students want to do more than just haul water bottles to and from practice. Now, the bulk of high school programs include a classroom component during the school day and hands-on learning in the athletic training room and on the field or court after school.

Running a successful high school student aide program requires a lot of planning and coordination. There’s plenty to think about, from making the work fun and challenging for high school kids to handling liability issues that arise when working with this age group. But the high school athletic trainers who run student aide programs almost always agree, it’s time and effort well spent.


Brian Robinson, MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., and Chair of the NATA Secondary School Committee, has seen the number of student aide programs rise nationwide for several years now. “States are raising their graduation requirements and principals and superintendents are looking for new courses to keep their students engaged,” he says. “Health-related programming is a no-brainer. So many kids are interested in the medical field that school officials are jumping at the opportunity to offer sports medicine and healthcare classes.”

After-school student aide programs have become a natural extension of these classes, especially since a school’s athletic trainer is usually the one tapped to teach the sports medicine class. Robinson says these programs are a great way to broaden students’ horizons and teach them about a branch of healthcare they might not have considered.

“We aren’t trying to show them everything we know about athletic training,” he says. “But we’re educating them and opening a whole new world in regard to the medical profession.”

Jim Berry, EdD, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High School, realizes that no matter what field his students go into, they’ll take away some useful skills from his program. “I don’t care if they go on to college to become an athletic trainer, but I want them to know how to properly do some basic first aid,” he says. “What they learn may come in handy 10 years from now when they have a little kid who falls off the monkey bars and breaks his arm.”

These programs also help stabilize the future of the profession as a whole, by raising awareness and expectations. “At some point, many of these young people will become parents and they’ll expect that their kids’ school has an athletic trainer and a student aide program because their own school did,” Berry says. “They’re going to simply demand that athletic training services be provided–and that’s a good thing for athletic trainers.”


Program directors agree that great student aide programs at the high school level have two essential components: classroom work and time in the athletic training room. It’s tough to sit down with a group of kids after the school day to go over basics like ligament names or taping ankles, so classroom time is paramount.

“In class, I want the students to understand anatomy well enough to have an idea of what might be wrong when someone is injured,” says Eric Hall, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Cary (N.C.) High School. “I also want them to know enough CPR and first aid so they can help a friend or family member in need. From there, we take the students who are still interested in helping out after school and put them in our aide program.”

“You really need an athletic training course so the students get the academic side of it,” agrees Stadelmeyer. “Students pouring water and putting bandages on after school is great, but if you want a solid program, the kids have to learn fundamental skills in the classroom like first aid, CPR, taping, wrapping, and bandaging.”

Some student aide programs, like the one at Cary, are an option open to those who take the athletic training class. Others, like at Ashland, are a requirement of the class. Either way, you want to be careful how many students join the after-school portion or you may end up in over your head.

“I have a group of 12 to 15 students who work about eight hours a week over three days,” Hall says. “I may have 20 to 30 students in class, but for me, that’s too many to supervise after school. So I ask my students in class to put in a few volunteer hours when they can, and they rotate throughout the semester.”

At Myrtle Beach, Berry caps his program at a dozen students. “I’ve found that having each kid work 10 hours a week is ideal,” he says. “Some schools take 25 or 30 kids, but I don’t feel that would create the best environment for the kids here. I have to be able to monitor who’s coming and going and who is doing what.”

To stay organized, Berry uses a computer calendar program and each month prints out an athletic training room schedule for himself, his assistant athletic trainer, and all the student aides. “Everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and when,” he says. “I write students’ initials at the bottom of each day to indicate when they have to cover practices and games. And if they have a conflict, it’s their job to tell me about it and to find another student to cover that shift. We stress that this is a professional environment, and they’re expected to be responsible.”

“All the expectations of the aides need to be clearly set forth, almost the same way the coach of a team does it,” Blair says. “I provide each student with a handbook that explains our rules, procedures, and their responsibilities. That can alleviate a lot of problems before they arise.”

In Kentucky, student aides are actually considered student-athletes in the eyes of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. So all of Stadelmeyer’s students must have an updated physical on file at the beginning of the school year and be academically eligible in order to participate in the after-school program.

“I watch their grades, and if someone’s struggling, I cut back their hours a little bit,” Stadelmeyer says. “Your handbook should be comprehensive and clear about participation requirements. This isn’t something you can make up as you go along.”


Before starting an athletic training student aide program, you must ensure it will comply with any applicable laws, and not expose the school–or you personally–to liability. “Everything is regulated by state practice laws,” Robinson says. “There are protective measures that prevent unqualified people from providing care, and those laws vary by state.

“We can teach the kids anything we want, but they can’t turn around and perform all of those things,” Robinson continues. “For example, we can teach them about ultrasound–how it works, what the different settings mean and what types of injuries we use it for–but that’s not a treatment we would let them actually perform.”

But that doesn’t mean student aides are limited to menial tasks. At some programs, they’re also taping ankles and helping record an injured athlete’s initial medical history.

“Some of my colleagues believe the sole responsibility of an athletic training student at the high school level is to sling water and ice,” Berry says. “But I don’t have any problem with kids taping ankles once they’ve demonstrated to me that they know how to do it correctly.”

Berry trusts his students to not overstep their bounds and has been pleased to hear them recite rules from the handbook he provides. “On several occasions, I’ve been on the phone and my assistant has been out of the room when an athlete comes in and asks a student to hook them up to the stim unit right away or they’ll be late for practice,” he says. “The students have no problem saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do that. You’re going to have to wait for Mr. Berry.'”

Paperwork is another area where student aide help is often welcome. “The students take medical histories of the athletes who come into our treatment center,” Blair says. “I tell them it’s like when they go to the doctor and a nurse or medical assistant gets their basic information so when the doctor comes in, they already have some background. When I see the athlete, I’ll delve deeper than the students do, but it gives me a good starting point and gives them great experience. A lot of times, I’ll even quiz the students on differential diagnoses for a particular case.”

If your student aides are taking initial medical histories and helping to file papers, they need to know the basics of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “We have the student aides sign a confidentiality agreement at the beginning of the year,” Blair says. “We talk about HIPAA and FERPA and how everything they hear or see in the athletic training room stays in the athletic training room. Good communication of those expectations, followed by good supervision, is important.”


The more hands-on tasks a student aide gets to perform, the more vested they become in the program. But with the obvious limitations on what they can do, program directors have to get creative in finding ways to keep students coming back for more.

“The best rewards for high school students are typically clothing and food,” Hall says. “We do a fundraiser every year so we can get T-shirts or sweatshirts for the student aides to recognize them for their hard work. During football season, we may go get something to eat together once in a while. I’ve also done ice cream days to reward the students. It’s like any other team here.”

Stadelmeyer gives all his students T-shirts or hooded sweatshirts that say Ashland Sports Medicine or Ashland Athletic Trainer. “It’s something they can identify themselves with,” he says. “We might have a holiday party, do a Thanksgiving dinner, or set up an occasional tailgate before a game, too. I like to make the experience about more than just working practices and games.”

Berry suggests finding ways to make everyday work a little more exciting as well. “The kids have to do all the not-so-fun things like get water, so we have all the bells and whistles for that job,” he says. “We let them operate the Gator golf carts, which is a highlight for the kids. It definitely spices up the grunt work.”

Time off isn’t a bad idea either. Student aides are generally hard working and see firsthand that the athletic training profession involves long hours, so they appreciate a break when they can get it.

“In the wintertime, we have a lot of games going on, but not a lot of injuries,” Stadelmeyer says. “So they have more downtime in winter–I try to get them to practice their skills on each other, but it’s okay to just sit here and watch TV for a little while, too. I’ll also give them more days off.”

Eight to 10 hours a week in the athletic training room or on the sidelines may not sound like much to an athletic trainer who’s working 60 hours a week, but for teenagers, it is a major sacrifice. Hall likes to say his student aides consider themselves a second family since they end up spending so much time together.

“That is probably the most rewarding part about what I do,” he says. “Getting to know the kids and watch them grow–that’s something I won’t forget.”


As more athletic training student aide programs and sports medicine classes are offered across the country, a handful of states are stepping up to the plate and offering statewide curriculums. Texas, which has had an athletic training curriculum in place since 2007, is one of them.

Dennis Hart, MEd, LAT, ATC, retired Head Athletic Trainer at North Mesquite (Texas) High School, is the Curriculum Coordinator for Sports Medicine at the Texas Education Agency and played a major role in designing the sports medicine courses the state offers. “Our main goal with the sports medicine courses is to recruit students who are interested in the athletic training profession,” Hart says. “We want to give them a good experience in high school and motivate them to stay with it. We also want to help our athletic trainers who run the classes at their school by giving them a great course to teach.”

Texas high schools can teach sports medicine I and II, and both courses offer credit toward graduation, which Hart says was necessary to get students interested in trying them out. Instructors must be certified athletic trainers and take the state-sponsored initial instructor’s course to be eligible. Today, 400 athletic trainers at 300 Texas high schools teach the classes.

“We’ve had great success so far,” Hart says. “It’s a work in progress and we’re taking in new ideas each year, but it’s really caught on.”

With success stories like this at the state level, is there a national curriculum on the horizon? Brian Robinson, MS, LAT, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., and Chair of the NATA’s Secondary School Committee, says his committee is looking into it.

“We’re examining the feasibility of creating guidelines,” he says. “Principals and superintendents are coming to us for information on how to get these programs started, so we’re talking about our options. At this point, though, we’re still in the very preliminary stages.


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