The History of Athletic Training
Written By: Rod Joseph, MS, LAT, ATC, CES 

Have you ever thought about what people use to do before Athletic Trainers were a thing? Honestly, the thought runs through my mind almost every time I provide care to an injury. But, first what are Athletic Trainers? Athletic Trainers are healthcare professionals who may work independently or in collaboration with physicians in accordance with their education and training and the states’ statutes, rules and regulations. As a part of the healthcare team, services provided by ATs include injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergent care, examination and clinical assessment and care of rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. (1) 

Now that we understand a bit more about what an Athletic Trainer does, let’s step into the time machine and explore the profession of Athletic Training. 

Athletic Training has roots dating back to ancient Greece where athletics was an important part of Greek culture. Individuals called Paidotribes (boy-rubber) and Aleittes (anointer) suggest that massage played an important role in athletic performance. The Medical Gymnastae (trainers) were said to possess ideas of the effect of diet, rest, and exercise on the development of the body. Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine,” and his student Claudius Galen often advised their patients to exercise in the gymnasia as a means of recovering from their ills. (2) 

As sport began to reemerge in society during the late 19th century, few individuals recognized the need for medical care for injured athletes. Athletes, their coaches, teammates, and spectators often managed their own injuries and the injuries of team members. In 1869, Rutgers and Princeton introduced the sport of football to the American scene. (2) Athletic Training in the United States began in October 1881 when Harvard University hired James Robinson to work conditioning for their football team. At the time, the term “Athletic Trainer” meant one who worked with track and field athletes. Robinson had worked with track and field athletes, but the name “Athletic Trainer” transferred to those working on conditioning these football players and later other athletes. (3) As a result of 18 deaths and 159 serious injuries in 1905, President Roosevelt was threatening to abolish football as an intercollegiate sport. This spurred a few educational institutions to hire individuals whose duties included those of an Athletic Trainer. (2) 

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) was founded in 1950 when the first meeting took place in Kansas City. About 200 Athletic Trainers gathered to discuss the future of their profession. Recognizing the need for a set of professional standards and appropriate professional recognition, the NATA has helped to unify Certified Athletic Trainers across the country by setting a standard for professionalism, education, certification, research and practice settings. Since its inception, the NATA has been a driving force behind the recognition of the Athletic Training profession. (4) The NATA produced the NATABOC in 1969 in order to implement a certification process for the profession for an entry-level Athletic Trainer. In 1989, became an independent non-profit corporation and soon later changed its name to the Board of Certification (BOC). (3) 

The qualifications for a professional Athletic Trainer include graduation with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited Athletic Training Program; CPR and first aid certification; an endorsed application by a NATA-certified trainer; and successful completion of the BOC exam. (5) 

Nowadays you can find Athletic trainers in a variety of settings. Here are just a few: 

  • Public and private secondary schools, colleges and universities, professional and Olympic sports 
  • Youth leagues, municipal and independently owned youth sports facilities 
  • Physician practice, similar to nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists and other professional clinical personnel 
  • Rural and urban hospitals, hospital emergency rooms, urgent and ambulatory care centers 
  • Clinics with specialties in sports medicine, cardiac rehab, medical fitness, wellness and physical therapy 
  • Occupational health departments in commercial settings, which include manufacturing, distribution and offices to assist with ergonomics, injury prevention, and OSHA-approved care for work and non-work-related injuries 
  • Police and fire departments and academies, municipal departments, branches of the military 
  • Performing arts including professional and collegiate level dance and music (6) 


  1. _Training 
Rod Joseph

Rod Joseph

Industrial Sports Medicine Professional

Rod is an Industrial Sports Medicine Professional with InSite Health. He is a Board-Certified Athletic trainer with a bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from Hofstra University and a master’s degree in Exercise Science from CUNY Queens College. He is also a Corrective Exercise Specialist. He joined the Industrial Sports Medicine field in December 2017 after spending seven years as a Certified Athletic Trainer at CUNY Queens College.