Last Updated on December 9, 2021
Interview with Professor Scott Sailor
Bryan Haggerty of SportsDegreesOnline.org speaks with Professor Scott Sailor about factors that students should consider while they are choosing an academic program in exercise science, kinesiology, and athletic training. They also touch on the evolving professional field of athletic training and kinesiology, offering advice about career insights for these and related fields.
About Professor Scott Sailor
Scott Sailor is the Chair of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of California at Fresno. He is also a Special Assistant to the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services and a professor of Athletic Training UC Fresno. Professor Sailor has also served as president of the National Association of Athletic Trainers (NATA).
Bryan Haggerty: Why do you feel that studying kinesiology is a good choice for young people who are passionate about sports and living an active lifestyle?
Scott Sailor: When you really look at the industry of sport, it’s really huge. It’s one of the largest industries in the United States. There are so many different facets: kinesiology, athletic training, sport management, sports administration. They are all pretty well known. But there are so many other areas students can get involved in if they get a background in kinesiology and/or sport management or something like that. It takes a lot of individuals to run a sport organization from administration to compliance, ticketing, promotion. Those are all things that people that love the game or love sport can get a real opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in school to a career that would be very rewarding for the rest of their lives.
BH: There are many kinesiology programs out there. For example, almost every school has a kinesiology department or offers a master’s degree in kinesiology. What are some important things that prospective students should look for when they are comparing different programs in athletic training – or in kinesiology – to make sure that they’re going to get a good education?
SS: That’s a really good question. I think when students really dig into and start looking at various kinesiology programs they’ll find that there are some that are very general and really broad and others that give them a little more specialized education. For example, we have three main undergraduate components. You can either do exercise science, sports administration or physical education. It really gives the opportunity to drill down deeper into those particular areas.
Exercise science is the one that tends to be the broadest and students have really discovered that it is a great pathway for those that want to head towards professional programs. Either graduate programs that are in a professional school like physical therapy or athletic training or occupational therapy or even physician assistant. Or they want to go into the industry of sport and become a specialist in one of those areas like biomechanics or exercise physiology or something like that.
Either to be able to teach that at a university later or today, there are so many different places that employ sports scientists as a broad category to do exercise testing and prescription. Some are there for elite athletes like Gatorade and Nike. Others are for corporate entities where they are just providing those resources for their employees. I have seen opportunities really expand in the last 10 to 20 years, and I think they are going to continue to expand in the years ahead.
BH: That’s great news for everybody who’s currently studying. We’re talking about very broad things ranging from exercise science, exercise physiology, and kinesiology. Is there a specific area that you think has particular potential for growth in the coming decade and beyond?
SS: I have to admit some personal bias because as an athletic trainer I’m mostly in tune with a lot of the athletic training opportunities and I’ve really seen an incredible growth in positions available in athletic training. When I went to school they were primarily in college, some high schools and pro sports. Even then pro sports meant football, baseball and basketball. Today we see that even in the sports arena or realm, you’ve got athletic trainers working with professional lacrosse, soccer, golf, and tennis. So that area has expanded.
There are also things that I had never envisioned when I was a student. We have here locally three or four athletic trainers who work full time at Amazon. We’ve got others that work for Pacific Gas and Electric. Over time, these industries have discovered that this sports prevention and treatment specialist, which is the athletic trainer, is really good at keeping those employees healthy or getting them healthy again. Working within their corporate healthcare system, they’re seeing great rewards and returns on that investment. Those opportunities just continue to expand, and I think that’s a really exciting component of the opportunity especially in the field of athletic training.
BH: Looking at geographical location, what types of factors should students consider when they are trying to determine which degree program to choose?
SS: Well I think there’s a couple things to consider here. One is, of course, the educational part itself. What can you get exposed to as a student? Are you able to see or interact with the professionals in the same capacity that you hope to be one day? For example, if your goal is to work in professional sports, do these schools provide you an opportunity to hear from those who are currently holding those positions? It’s even better if they have been able to establish some internship or opportunities to visit and hang out with a particular sport for a week or so.
Here on the West Coast, that’s one thing that we have a real benefit of, is having a lot of professional sports, a lot of sport industry in this state. You can do sports year-round [here in California]. There are really a lot of opportunities. We send students up to the Bay Area and they’ll often interact with the Bay Area professional teams. They’ll work with the facilities folks, administrative folks, athletic trainers, or do internships or summer camps.
Same is true in L.A. We’ve got pro football back in L.A. We’ve got MLS. All kinds of neat internship opportunities which really help students get an opportunity to see that world and decide if it’s for them or not for them. But also, it’s the first foot in the door that gets them an opportunity to have that on their resume so that when they go to apply for jobs afterwards, they get to do that.
The other thing that we have here on the West Coast are kinesiology programs. Exercise science primarily in the UC system, but the CSU system contains most of the undergraduate kinesiology programs. Because of that, and because of the support that the state of California provides CSU, it’s often less expensive to come to school here than it would be to even stay in state in other places.
Also, out-of-state tuition is really not all that high here either, but for those students in the state of California, education is heavily subsidized, and they can get an excellent education without incurring a tremendous amount of student debt which is an ultimate goal that we have. We want to send them into the world with the opportunity to make money, not just pay everybody back money.
BH: That’s a great selling point for California for sure. You had mentioned the exercise science and kinesiology side of things. Who are some of the employers that graduates of those programs would be talking to about positions and what types of career opportunities exist for graduates of those programs?
SS: I would say about half of our students in exercise science probably come to school mostly wanting to go into physical therapy or athletic training. That’s kind of their primary area. Most of them will work clinically for the most part. Or they’ll go on to advanced education.
The others are interested in the fitness industry in general: bigger, faster, stronger, health and wellness. Those types of things. We see those students getting jobs in a variety of places like corporate fitness. Some will get jobs where they are doing exercise testing in physicians’ offices. We’ve got some that will do cardiac rehab for a hospital system or a clinic system. Some want to go into things like strength conditioning, and they’ll go get jobs in athletics or athletic departments overseeing a strength conditioning program or sometimes developing a strength conditioning program. Some will go into personal training and that type of thing, but they could’ve done that, for the most part, without going through the trouble of getting the degree that they had to work so hard to get. They are better qualified, but most of them will go into leadership roles within that industry if they go back into corporate gyms and things like that.
BH: I’ve heard in my research, and speaking with people about athletic training, and I understand that California has a different requirement for athletic trainers in that a master’s degree is not required to be a practicing athletic trainer. Is that still true?
SS: California is unique in that there is currently no form of regulation for athletic trainers. So what that means is, unlike other states, you don’t have to obtain a separate licensure or registration to be an athletic trainer. So technically, anyone for the most part could call themselves an athletic trainer in the state of California and work as an athletic trainer.
In reality, the employers are attuned to this. We have, through public service campaigns that we’ve run as athletic trainers, helped them realize that they’re extending a lot of liability if they were to hire an unqualified person. So for most employers in the state, there are a few cases here and there, but for the most part, we’re doing a really good job of getting certified athletic trainers hired in positions that require an athletic trainer. So that’s really good.
I was going to mention that to become a certified athletic trainer today, and I think the deadline is the end of this next academic year, but the entire profession of athletic training has moved to the point that it will now, moving forward, require a master’s degree in athletic training to be able to sit for the national exam as an athletic trainer – the certification exam. There are a few programs still existing at the bachelor’s degree level, but they can accept their last undergraduate cohort either this year or next year.
From that point on, all students that want to pursue athletic training, will most likely do some form of undergraduate program. Maybe one that’s specifically designed to prepare them for things like physical therapy, athletic training, or it could be an exercise science degree, where they meet all the prerequisites to apply to graduate programs in athletic training.