Jan 29, 2015
Passing It On

If teaching a sports medicine class is in your future but you’re not sure where to start, we have a step-by-step guide for the course approval and development process.

By Bart Peterson

Bart Peterson, MSS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer and Athletic Director at Palo Verde High Magnet School in Tucson, Ariz. He currently sits on the NATA Board of Directors and has served on the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee and as secretary of NATA District 7. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Have you been thinking about starting a sports medicine class at your high school? If so, great! If not, maybe it’s time to start contemplating this excellent opportunity for students to expand their knowledge base and for you to grow professionally.

In addition to providing another academic offering, a sports medicine course gives students a glimpse at different healthcare professions and the opportunity to learn new and exciting disciplines they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to during high school. At a time when teenagers are searching for possible career paths, a sports medicine course may help them make good decisions.

Creating this type of class can also boost your resume and professional career. If you have no plans to leave your current job, adding a course in which you can showcase your expertise shows the administration how valuable you are to the school system. And if you are looking to eventually move on, the added responsibility of teaching a course will look great on your resume.

Whatever your reason for starting this endeavor, the relationships you build while creating the curriculum, teaching the class, and overseeing students’ after school observation hours will create life-long bonds. This is one of the reasons I started teaching sports medicine at my high school, and it’s the main reason I go to great lengths to continue offering the courses.


A sports medicine course should be offered to provide students with exposure to different healthcare professions, not turn them into athletic trainers, nurses, or physical therapists. Neither you nor a student should expect that upon finishing the class, they would be ready to walk into the athletic training room and start taping ankles and diagnosing concussions.

I initially began developing my class 20 years ago, after students asked me for help getting into college to study medicine. I looked into creating a sports medicine class and realized it would be a great opportunity to provide some help in the athletic training room and on the fields.

At the time, that justification was probably good enough. Today, however, with legislation and licensing regulating the practice of athletic training in almost every state, it’s another story.

I know there are schools where administrators have approved sports medicine courses because they think it will help the athletic trainer provide coverage of sports and activities. Though I require my students to spend time in the athletic training room, it is primarily for the experience of watching a licensed athletic trainer at work. It is not to help me perform any of my duties as an athletic trainer.

It is very important to note that the athletic training student aide programs that are often an extension of a sports medicine course should never be created or maintained as a means to provide coverage for sports teams. The NATA Official Statement on Proper Supervision of High School Athletic Training Student Aides says, “Student aides must be under the direct visual supervision of a licensed/certified athletic trainer when assisting with any athletic training services. Coaches and school administrators must not allow or expect student aides to act independently with regards to the evaluation, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. Additionally, it is paramount that student aides not be expected, asked, or permitted to make ‘return to play’ decisions.”

The statement also lists five specific tasks that athletic training student aides are not allowed to do. They may not: interpret referrals from healthcare providers; perform evaluations; make decisions about treatments, procedures, or activities; plan patient care; or independently provide athletic training services during team travel.

Allowing your student aides to do any of those five tasks may also be a violation of your state’s practice act. In many states, a student violation of the state practice act is just as bad as the supervising instructor (you) committing the violation. It is vital that you fully understand your state’s practice act in this regard.


As you begin the process of getting a sports medicine course approved, the first thing you need to determine is your eligibility to be employed as a teacher. The No Child Left Behind Act requires that all teachers be “highly qualified” in their subject area. Only your district and State Department of Education (SDE) can determine if you fit the bill. However, a number of colleges have designed post-baccalaureate programs for degree holders to obtain teaching credentials, so there are options if your SDE isn’t convinced you are qualified to teach the course.

Next, get the details on how courses are approved at your school. For example, in Arizona, a course cannot be offered if it’s not on the SDE master course list. If your state doesn’t have a list like this, it’s important to determine whether courses are approved by district employees or on a school-by-school basis.

You’ll also need to find the best department for a sports medicine course at your school. Since the class examines different healthcare professions, the science, health, or physical education department might make sense. Many high schools also offer career and technical education (CTE) or vocational programs to their students, so that might be a natural fit.

Here at Palo Verde High Magnet School, our Sports Medicine I and II courses are part of our CTE program, which is partially funded by the SDE. This external funding is one of the major reasons the course has survived extensive budget cuts in a district and state riddled by budgetary woes.

As you prepare your proposal, the main thing to keep in mind is how your course will help the school. This is what the people you are trying to convince will be most interested in. For example, if your principal is looking to diversify course offerings, explain how your course will support this endeavor. If your administration wants to expand career options through the CTE program, discuss how the class will cover many different professions in the healthcare field.

In addition, CTE courses often qualify for credit at junior colleges and some four-year universities. That may be an incentive for students to enroll in your class and an opportunity for the administration to say that their school offers a course with college credit.

Try to anticipate issues that may arise in the approval process and be willing to listen to decision makers who tell you the class won’t work. Most concerns can be resolved with forethought and good communication. One example might be resistance from other teachers worried that a new course will decrease enrollment in their courses. To combat this concern, I require health, anatomy, and physiology as prerequisites for my class. This helps boost enrollment in the other teachers’ classes, and they see my program as a great addition to the school, not competition.

The quest to begin offering a sports medicine course cannot be done alone–you’ll need help and support along the way. The first person to get on board is the school principal, or if you’re at a larger high school, the assistant principal in charge of curriculum and instruction. They might be willing to assist you in the proposal preparation and help convince other teachers, department chairs, and key decision makers that adding your course would be a positive move.

The athletic director can be another important ally. They have the ear of the administration and can help foster the process along when you hit a roadblock. A good athletic trainer who has the best interest of students at heart is a valuable commodity, and if your athletic director believes in you, they will do everything they can for you and your position, including pushing for additional work and pay to keep you at the school. Other potential supporters might be found in the CTE program or science, health, or physical education departments since the course may become a part of any one of these departments.

As you make contact with these key players, reach out to other schools in your area that offer similar courses. You can learn a lot by asking about what did and didn’t work for them as they went through the course approval process.

Perhaps the biggest issue to overcome will be funding–for both your teaching salary and classroom supplies. There is a set amount of funds to be divided up, and you need to prove why your program deserves a slice of the pie. If money is a big hurdle to approval, push to have your course included in the CTE department since it may receive state funding.

You can also assure the district employees who are deciding on the fate of a sports medicine course that you will seek outside funding. This might mean applying for a Carl D. Perkins Grant, which is administered by the federal government to provide funding for CTE programs. And on the local level, many communities have established vocational education funds to assist CTE and vocational programs that teach career path coursework. In our district, we have the Joint Technical Education District, which provides support for salaries, supplies, and capitol equipment necessary for the course.

If in the end, the course is denied due to a lack of funding, be patient. You may be told that the class will have to wait a year, so take that time to make your curriculum even better and more engaging.

BEST CURRICULUMS Once you’ve gotten approval for the development of a sports medicine class, congratulate yourself on a job well done, but know that your work is just beginning. While you may have had a general outline to show others during the approval process, now your task is to fill it out and determine exactly what to teach.

Some of this work may already be done. For example, each course on Arizona’s master list has required topics or competencies that must be included in the curriculum. And if your sports medicine course ends up falling under the umbrella of the CTE program, many states provide a recommended curriculum. Though you don’t have to use it verbatim, the suggestions will give you a good framework to work with.

Whether or not you are fortunate enough to have recommendations, it’s best to start creating your curriculum by looking at the overall picture. Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, authors of Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook offer a great overall approach to creating a course curriculum. They suggest considering three main questions:

• What are the “big ideas” that convey enduring principles you’d like most of your students to take away?

• What are the concepts which are important to know, but don’t fit into question one?

• What are the things that are worth being familiar with, but not necessary for successful completion of the course?

When developing my curriculum, I felt there were seven “big ideas” that my students should be proficient in by the time they left my class. I also had a number of important concepts that fit into question two, and even more areas that I wanted to touch on briefly. I believe that if I can hit on those smaller concepts once or twice, my students will benefit greatly in college. My “big ideas” include:

Good study habits. In a sports medicine class where students are only being introduced to different healthcare professions, what they learn isn’t as important as how they learn. Helping students figure out how to best obtain the information you cover is the most important skill they can develop.

Understanding basic medical terminology. Learning the language of medicine is invaluable to high school students. Going to college with a second language under your belt is usually a requirement, but I believe that going with a third language–medicine–gives students an extra advantage in class, especially early on.

Being able to write at a college level. It’s amazing how many college students don’t understand how to coherently put words on paper. I believe it’s best for everyone, even non-English majors, to work intensively on writing skills before college.

CPR and first aid training. Any healthcare provider should know CPR (preferably Professional Rescuer CPR). And first aid should always be taught as part of a CTE sports medicine course.

Understanding basic anatomy and physiology. Because anatomy and physiology are such complex subjects, there’s no way you’d be able to cover everything. I emphasize the importance of knowing the basics.

Basic taping and wrapping skills. This is an area students can learn and apply in the field. However, mastery of all taping and wrapping skills should not be a requirement of a high school sports medicine course, and some state athletic training legislation prohibits minors from conducting medical procedures on other minors.

Critical thinking skills. Students are capable of learning many complex skills and techniques, and at the high school level we should strive to cultivate that ability. That means giving them a great base of knowledge and then challenging their newly-acquired skills and techniques.


How you present course material is as important as the material itself. It’s easy to get into the rut of lecture, lecture, and more lecture. But if you want to attract future students and keep the ones you have, it’s important to remember that you’ll have auditory, visual, and tactile learners in one classroom. I’ve found that a combination of PowerPoint presentations and hands-on work is the way to appeal to all types of learners.

You can find ready-to-use PowerPoint presentations online, and if you choose to use a textbook, many publishers bundle chapter presentation DVDs with their books. PowerPoint makes it easy to follow a set curriculum in lecture form, but keeps it stimulating for students because you can add photos and videos. I save my PowerPoint presentation lectures as Web-based files and make them accessible online so students can revisit the lecture material at home.

Coupled with classroom presentations, giving students the opportunity to practice techniques allows them to apply the information they learned. For example, during our unit on the head and face, I use dentistry as my focus, and as students learn about making impressions of the mouth and teeth, I have them make custom mouth pieces for themselves or classmates.

I also require students to set up and complete observation hours with myself and/or other healthcare professionals. Ride-a-longs with the fire department and observation time in a physician’s office, hospital, dental office, or physical therapy clinic all expose the student to what it’s like to work in healthcare.

You will also quickly learn, as I did, that the Internet can be a teacher’s best friend. Our school Web site has become my personal filing cabinet. I have a class Web page set up with a password, which allows students immediate access to course materials online. If there is homework, students have the option to complete and return it online instead of printing it out and completing by hand. I’ve also made the site interactive, and extra credit bonuses randomly appear to encourage my students to use it.

Testing has become much easier with the Internet as well. Web sites like ClassMarker.com allow instructors to create tests by typing in questions and answers. When students take the tests online, they are instantly graded. For athletic trainers with lots of responsibilities, this greatly decreases the amount of time spent grading assignments and tests.

While a sports medicine course can be a wonderful addition to a school’s offerings, much care must be taken when developing presentations and hands-on opportunities. Students in a secondary school are naturally primed to learn, and the opportunities you provide them can be a springboard to a great career.


The NATA Official Statement on Proper Supervision of High School Athletic Training Student Aides can be downloaded at: www.nata.org/official-statements.

The NATA Position Improvement Guide, which documents how athletic trainers can improve their position at a secondary school by teaching a sports medicine course is available at: www.nata.org/brochures-and-other-informational-materials.

Create instantly graded online tests for students at: www.ClassMarker.com.

My home state CTE program organization, Arizona Tech Prep, provides lots of great info about our state’s sports medicine courses at: www.aztechprep.org. Click on “CTE Programs,” then “Career Preparation,” then “Sports Medicine & Rehab. Services.”

Your sports medicine class students can find more information about the Health Occupations Students of America organization at: www.hosa.org.


One of the most common questions I am asked about starting a sports medicine class is, “What supplies do I need?” In addition to regular classroom supplies like computers and a projector, here is a list of equipment you might need.

• Tape and wrapping supplies ($30-50 per student)

• Examination table(s) ($500 each)

• Taping table(s) ($500-$1,500 each)

• Exercise equipment (price varies, but you may be able to get some used equipment at reduced price)

• Fitness assessment and prescription equipment and software (price and programs vary)

• Anatomy software (price and programs vary)

• Injury simulation software (price and programs vary)

• Reference software ($50-$500)

• Custom-fit mouthpiece equipment ($2,000)

• Stethoscopes and sphygmomanometers ($30 per student)

• Pulse oximeter ($100-$250)

• Otoscopes and ophthalmoscope ($350)

• Heat illness diagnostic and prevention equipment, including scales and hydration testing equipment ($5,000)

• Field trips to cadaver labs, universities, anatomy museums (entry fees vary, but there are often discounts or free entry for student groups)

• CPR mannequins ($350)

• CPR training videos ($250)

• AED trainer ($400)

• AED ($1,500)

Note that, unfortunately, equipment is the expensive part of the class, so think about how you might be able to get your hands on some for free. For example, you might be able to get an AED and AED trainer donated by your local hospital. Or if you have a college or university with an athletic program nearby, the head athletic trainer might be willing to bring in his or her department’s heat illness diagnostic equipment for a day so you can spend a class session on heat illness prevention.

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