Online Sports and Fitness Degree Programs

Athletic trainers work with a variety of athletes to prevent, diagnose and treat muscle and bone injuries and illnesses. They're often the first ones on the scene when an injury happens, and they typically consult with a licensed physician or health care provider. Earning an online sports medicine or athletic training degree prepares students to become an athletic trainer.

Athletic Training

Here are just some of the job duties that athletic trainers do on a daily basis:

  • Apply injury-preventive or protective devices, such as bandages, tape and braces
  • Provide first aid or emergency care
  • Discern and evaluate injuries
  • Develop and execute rehabilitation programs for injured athletes
  • Perform administrative tasks, such as writing reports and keeping records
  • Plan and execute programs to prevent illness and injury of athletes

To become an athletic trainer, students must complete a bachelor's degree in athletic training. Many also complete master's degree programs in athletic training. Most states require athletic trainers to become certified, which can be achieved typically by graduating from an accredited athletic training program and passing the required exam.

Coursework in Sports and Fitness Degree Programs

There are a variety of online sports science degrees. In athletic training specifically, students can earn a bachelor's or a master's degree, or they can complete a program that combines a bachelor's with a master's degree. At the graduate level, entry-level programs are targeted to students who didn't earn a bachelor's degree in the subject, while more advanced programs are set up for students who did earn a bachelor's degree in sports and fitness.

While no two programs look exactly the same, here are some typical course offerings in different kinds of athletic training programs.

Pharmacology in sports medicine

This course typically covers everything from precautions and interactions of medication to regulations relevant to the treatment of illness and injuries in athletes. Overall, students will examine the knowledge and skills required of athletic trainers on a pharmacological level.

Therapeutic exercise in athletic training

In this course, students typically learn about the planning, evaluating and implementing of therapeutic exercise programs. Assessment techniques are also explored, and sometimes lab work is necessary for this course.

Traumatic brain injury in sport

This course focuses on the recognition, assessment and management of traumatic brain injuries in athletic activities. Students learn about brain anatomy, the diagnosis of various brain conditions and how to treat head injuries affecting the brain.

Diagnosis of orthopedic and sport-related injuries

Students in this course typically learn about orthopedic injuries and athlete-related injuries to upper and lower extremities, as well as the back and spine.

Practicum in athletic training

Both bachelor's and master's degree programs in athletic training often have practicums, which help students gain clinical or hands-on experience in the field under supervision. Some programs require multiple practicums, while others require one or none.

Interview with a Professor

To learn more about online sports medicine degree programs and the field of athletic training and sports and fitness, we caught up with Judi LaBranche, who teaches in the kinesiology department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. LaBranche specializes in exercise testing and programming and fitness management, helping students enter the real world of fitness careers.

What are the skills, interests and personality traits necessary for a student to be successful in sports and fitness degree programs?

"To be successful in the fitness industry, students need to have a comprehensive understanding of how the body works, including on a cellular level to biomechanics, how to read and understand research so they can remain current, pathophysiology of disease and a variety of exercise techniques. In addition, students need to have some exposure to business principles and practices. Professionals that are non-judgmental, motivating and have excellent communication will have a greater rate of success."

What is the most rewarding part of a career in sports and fitness? Why should students pursue a career in this field?

"Working with a variety of people and being a part of their health journey is incredibly rewarding. If you are interested in being in the helping profession, making a difference in the lifetime health of people, then this is field for you. In addition, this is a great field to progress to the next level, such as physical therapy or physician assistant."

What advice would you give to students considering a sports and fitness program?

"To be successful in this field, you need to not only be able to complete the academic work, but you should seek internships and as many real-life experiences as you can."

Career Outlook for Professionals with Sports and Fitness Degrees

The career outlook is looking up for athletic trainers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of athletic trainers is expected to grow by 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is nearly double the amount of all occupations. However, since it is such a small field, this growth will only produce about 4,900 new jobs in the 10-year period.

There are many reasons the BLS gives for this projected growth. The main reason is a growing awareness of sports-related illnesses, which will likely result in an increased demand for athletic trainers. Other reasons the BLS gives for the projected growth of this field range from advances in injury prevention and detection to increased awareness of concussions.

As of May 2014, the BLS reported there were 22,400 athletic trainers employed in the United States. The median annual wage for athletic trainers at that time was $43,370, with the lowest-paid 10 percent typically earning around $27,610 and the highest-paid 10 percent typically earning an annual wage near $67,070.


"Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm#tab-1

"29-9091 Athletic Trainers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes299091.htm

"Athletic Training - Entry-Level," Plymouth State University, https://www.plymouth.edu/graduate/academics/degrees/masters/ms/athletic-training/entry-level/

"Master of Science in Athletic Training," A.T. Still University, http://www.atsu.edu/master-of-science-in-athletic-training-degree#curriculum

Pursue your Athletic Training major today…

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