As far as athletic training positions go, there are few as highly sought after as those in the NFL. Why? The glitz and glamour of professional football plays a role, but they also offer an opportunity to work in some of the best facilities and on the cutting edge of the industry. With the NFL athletic trainer salary set relatively high, somewhere around $45,000 to $75,000[i], there can be a lot of competition to get your foot in the door! If you’re asking yourself how to become an athletic trainer for the NFL, the first step is to get an internship! Easier said than done, right? With application pools of well over a thousand, it can be more than a little intimidating. How do you make your application shine? At the University of Idaho, we’ve heard this question a lot, and we have some tried and true tips share.
Let’s start with some background.
What is Athletic Training?
I could write an entire blog post answering this question alone! The experts at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) define it as, “Athletic trainers are highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.”[ii]
To gain certification, athletic trainers graduate from a Master’s in Athletic Training Program that has been certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). This allows graduates to sit for the Board of Certification (BOC) exam. After passing the exam, they take Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to keep their accreditation active. Athletic trainers work in a variety of settings. However, since you’re reading this blog, you are probably wondering…
What do NFL Athletic Trainers do?
You may only see NFL athletic trainers on television briefly on Sunday afternoon, but you’re only seeing a small fraction of their job. Like physicians, they are on-call 24/7. According to Geoff Kaplan, head athletic trainer of the Houston Texans, “During the season, you work six months straight without a day off. Depending on if we’re traveling or not, we’re working between 80 and 90 hours a week. During training camp we’re working 110 to 120 hours a week”[iii] What are these athletic trainers doing? They are providing therapeutic treatments like ultrasound, hydrotherapy, and soft tissue mobilization. They are monitoring practices and leading injury prevention strategies. They are doing everything they can to keep the athletes and patients in top condition and ready to play. There have been a lot of changes and advancements in technology for athletic trainers, and the NFL is on the cutting edge of all of it. They often have quick access to MRI, ultrasound, and x-ray machines for diagnosis. There are concussion and helmet studies, computer models, innovations in protective gear, and new procedures to help treat athletes and get them back on the field as quickly as possible.
It takes a lot of passion and commitment to be an athletic trainer for the NFL. Are you ready? Great! Let’s get your internship application ready!
Tips to apply
Applying for an internship at the NFL is a lot like applying to any internship. There are three big pieces to consider: applying at the right time, having high attention to the right details, and making your application stand out. Let’s go through each of these.
When to apply
The best time to apply is in the autumn. Applications are typically reviewed in October and November.
Attention to the right details
Think about how you want your application to arrive. Many reviewers prefer paper copies. Are you going to choose a legal envelope or cram your materials into a smaller one? Are you going to print the address with your computer, or hurriedly scrawl it on with a hot pink pen? You can tell a lot about a person from how they choose to do these things, and you want to be sure you are showing off your professional best.
Consider the details that matter. It matters that you correctly spell the name of the person you are writing to. If you are applying to multiple teams, it matters that your mail merge matches up the correct names and addresses. We all make typos, but it matters that you take the time to have someone look over your materials and correct those before you send it out. It matters that you take the time to sign your name at the bottom of your cover letter.
What doesn’t matter? Fancy thick paper doesn’t matter. Copying and pasting the team logo on top of your letter doesn’t matter. Designer fonts and charming formatting doesn’t matter. As an athletic trainer, you’re expected to pay attention to the important details and filter out the noise. Let your internship application reflect that.
Making your application stand out
Let’s look at how to shine in each of the three parts of your application.
Writing a cover letter can be a bit of a daunting task. The easiest way is to repeat all the things that are on your resume. Bad idea! Instead, think of your cover letter as your opportunity to introduce yourself and tell your story. Don’t be a bullet-list of education and experiences. Instead, reveal who you are as a person. How do you tell a compelling story about yourself? Consider these questions:
- What led you to Athletic Training?
- What inspires you in this field?
- Why are you applying for the NFL Internship Program?
Give yourself time to think and rethink your letter and craft it carefully. The cover letter should bring your strengths and drive to the reviewer. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to scrap the whole thing and try again.
Out of the hundreds of resumes pouring in by mail, how do you make yours stand out? Experience! Collecting experience begins long before you sit down to write your resume. It means going to a school that leads the pack in athletic training education. It means saying “yes!” to relevant experiences when they present themselves. It means networking at National, regional, and state athletic training conferences and being open to meeting new people and learning new skills. It means stepping out of your comfort zone from time to time. Your resume should not include your time waiting tables, but it should definitely include your time volunteering with a non-profit or mentoring at the local high school. Including extracurriculars sparks the reviewers’ interest, and shows you are more than a name with a degree. And it goes without saying, be sure to include any relevant experience you’ve had working with football or a related sport. Also emphasize techniques that could set you apart, like manual therapy or movement assessment.
The standard number of references is three. Include those that you’ve worked with in a clinical setting. It is awesome if you can include someone with name recognition, but few people are lucky enough to have that opportunity. Instead, focus on those who are close to the profession, and as recent as possible. A faculty member who has worked closely with you in the last year is a good bet. Your supervisor at the coffee shop isn’t. Be sure to ask for permission before you include your references’ names and check to make sure you have current contact information.
Putting it all together
That’s it! Are you ready to apply? Your last step should be getting a professional to read over your materials. Here at the University of Idaho our friends over at Career Services sit down with current students and alumni to read over application materials and provide feedback. Faculty are also great resources. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism; it is an opportunity to learn, grow, and ultimately become a better candidate. Good luck!