POSTED: Monday, September 24, 2012 - 11:45am
UPDATED: Monday, September 24, 2012 - 11:49am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — Thanks to a dramatic shift in sports culture over the past decade many student athletes are no longer "playing through the pain", having learned instead to take injuries seriously.
It's also led to the growing popularity of hiring athletic trainers in high schools.
Students are benefiting, both on the playing field and in the classroom.
"An athletic trainer is your first line of defense. We are there typically during the injury, the instant it happens. We are the first people on scene to take care of the injury as well," says Erin Carlson, the Certified Athletic Trainer responsible for athletes at Harding University High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Athletic trainers are healthcare providers on the sidelines, ready to jump into action when they see signs of heat illness, concussions or other injuries.
They stick with kids through treatment, rehab and then assess when they can get back to the playing field, and the classroom.
"You don't want to put a kid in a situation where he has to be the adult, and make a decision. That's not a place for them to be, especially when it's about their health," Carlson says.
Athletic training is a growing profession in high schools across the country.
Many school administrators are learning that appropriate recognition and treatment of injuries like concussions -- in which healing brains need to rest -- can help student athletes do better in class.
"A large percentage of our athletes are 3.5 grade point average or better.. so the combination of participating in athletics and education seems to go very well together," says trainer Jon Almquist.
Still, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association less than half of high schools nationwide have access to athletic trainers.
"If you don't have an athletic trainer there, who's taking care of your kids?" Almquist asks.
Recent scientific insight into heat illness and concussions has led most states to pass youth sports safety laws.