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Healthy Tahoe: Sideline support, role of a certified athletic trainer

Kate McCaffrey
Licensed Athletic Trainer

Sports are an integral part of the Lake Tahoe lifestyle. From the slopes to the singletrack, rink to the field, activity is identity. So when an injury occurs as a result of action, it can feel like life goes on hold. Despite the temporary setback of an injury, it’s not enough to just heal. Athletes want more than that. Luckily, in Tahoe, we have access to a care team that understands the importance of performing at the highest level.

Competing athletes get support from coaches and parents, but there is another link in the chain that advocates for a healthy body and mind. A Licensed/ Certified Athletic Trainer, is commonly found in tandem with athletes and teams, especially with athletics in the Tahoe area. ATCs are highly-trained healthcare professionals focused on sports health and capable of treating many issues including orthopedic, rehabilitation, psychological/ social support and concussion management.

Alongside the athlete and coach, ATCs are well versed in the athlete’s goal or dynamic of the team, and provide strategy to keep the team performing at their highest level. They ensure each athlete is well cared for, from the first practice to the championship game, as the primary goal of an ATC is to help young athletes maintain healthy participation in their sport.



Athletic trainers are sometimes confused with personal trainers. There is, however, a difference in education, skillset, job duties and patients of an athletic trainer and a personal trainer. The athletic training academic curriculum and clinical training follows a medical model, and athletic trainers must graduate from an accredited baccalaureate or master’s program, with 70% of ATCs having a master’s degree. Higher certifications give ATCs the ability to aid in prevention, perform exams, diagnose and begin treatment for both chronic and acute issues.

ATCs work closely with other physicians and health care providers that specialize in physiatry and orthopedic issues; they can tap into these networks of professionals to provide the best outcomes for athletes overcoming sports-related injuries. A doctor is the medical liaison giving appropriate clearance, while the ATCs are with the athletes on a regular basis, observing patterns and forming trust with the individual.



This concept of care coordination takes into account the health of a whole person, both mental and physical, as any issue can have an effect on the other. Emotional instability, such as depression, can be just as debilitating on the field as a sprained ankle.

Most affiliated athletes and parents have access to ATCs through their sports teams or academic outreach programs. Physical therapy patients at Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness can also obtain a referral to participate in Barton’s Bridge Program, a transitional program where an ATC supervises individualized training and movements to get the patient/ athlete back to optimum strength and mobility for their specific sport.

Having access to ATC is a real game-changer. Parents/ guardians can feel confident that their child is in safe hands and athletes can give it their all knowing that they have partners in health to keep them on track.

Kate McCaffrey is a Licensed Athletic Trainer with the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness, providing support for athletes at Douglas High School and patients of Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in the Lake Tahoe Region and Carson City. Look out for Barton ATCs at community events or learn more by calling 530-539-6600.

Most affiliated athletes and parents have access to ATCs through their sports teams or academic outreach programs.
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