5 Reasons Former Athletes Make All-Star Physical Therapist Assistants

physical therapist assistants

“It’s the best way to build character!”

“No better place to learn teamwork.”

“You’ll learn how to be a good winner and loser.”

“It’s a great way to make sure you stay active!”

Growing up, you may have heard any combination of these reasons to participate in sports. Your involvement in sports has been a crucial part of your development as a person, but you have also realized the path to becoming a professional athlete is limited and quite competitive.

Your family and friends might even be questioning your commitment to sports when it’s time to hang up the cleats and seek out a real job.  Was all that time spent honing your athletic abilities really worth anything when it comes to your future career?

Before you throw in the towel for a desk job, why don’t you consider some jobs for former athletes first? You don’t have to exit the athletic arena to enter the working world. In fact, your experience in sports is excellent preparation for becoming a physical therapy assistant (PTA). After consulting with physical therapy experts, we compiled a list of reasons why former athletes would excel as PTAs. Read on to find out if this career is a fit for you.

As a former athlete …

1. You can empathize with injured patients

“Being a former athlete, I am used to pain. You don’t play high-level sports without some sort of discomfort along the way,” says Kate Ashworth, former tennis pro and physical therapist assistant with OrthoCarolina.  With a personal injury log of ACL reconstruction, a broken back and a severe ankle sprain, Ashworth finds herself very capable of relating to her patients’ experiences. 

When patients are seeking rehabilitation, they appreciate working with a PTA who understands both the emotional and physical toll that injuries take on the human mind and body. This empathy helps you build a relationship with the patient. This is a big first step in the often quite lengthy improvement process. By sharing this common ground, a patient might be less hesitant to accept advice and buy into the recovery method suggested.

2. You are a team player

“PTAs work in partnership with physical therapists to implement specific components of patient treatments, collect and report patient data and make treatment adjustments,” says Heidi Jannenga, physical therapist and president of WebPT.

As a former athlete, your teamwork skills have been honed over many years of competition. Your understanding of how to cooperate and strategize with your teammates to achieve the best outcome in a game directly translates to your success as a PTA where you will not only be expected to collaborate with a physical therapist, but also perhaps, more importantly, with the patient. You and the patient are part of a team, and your ultimate victory is the improvement and recovery of this patient.

3. You expect improvement to take time and effort

You can’t even count the amount of free throws you shot in the early mornings to improve your free throw percentage. The memory of those intense hill workouts you pounded out on humid afternoons fills you with both nausea and the feeling of elation when you ran your fastest five-mile time on a challenging cross country course.

Results don’t come without commitment, and you are prepared to accompany your patient through the arduous process of recovery. Ashworth explains that most of her patients expect to be better the day before they even start therapy and are often surprised and initially discouraged by the amount of time and effort needed to complete their treatment. Your personal stories about improvement will help you be honest about the endurance required to improve. Your patients appreciate a PTA who has both witnessed and experienced success with what may seem like monotonous exercises. Your testimony proves therapy is not a waste of time.

4. You’re comfortable being a cheerleader

Perhaps your athletic past literally involved executing stunning acrobatics on the sideline while simultaneously chanting catchy cheers to energize fans in the stands. Or perhaps your way of encouraging was either a pat on the back when a teammate missed a penalty kick or a word of support for a quarterback about to direct a new play. Either way, this experience with providing motivation for your teammates will be crucial as a PTA.

“People are typically in pain when they come to see us, so asking them to put themselves into more pain to exercise, stretch or otherwise improve their function is challenging,” says Ashworth. “They also tend to be emotional and have lost some of their independence.”

Ashworth asserts that it is important for PTAs to be cheerleaders for their patients. A rigorous exercise and stretching routine is usually not enough for someone who has been injured. They also need someone to encourage them along the way—someone to listen to the challenges they will encounter as well as someone to celebrate progress they will make.

5. You have a knack for leadership

While you may or may not have had the title, “Captain,” at some point during your athletic career, you almost certainly have taken on a leadership role in some capacity. You’ve also been privy to multiple coaching styles and understand the techniques that are most effective for guidance.

PTAs have the role of guiding their patients through recovery with confidence and compassion. A patient will look to you for expertise and advice.

There are also multiple opportunities to lead in the physical therapy field. Jannenga explained the many leadership opportunities she has held in her own physical therapy career that include directing a clinic, founding a company and advocating on behalf of the American Physical Therapy Association. These roles, along with others, provide opportunities for promotion and growth in the field of physical therapy that former athletes are prepared to capitalize on.

Is your athletic experience leading you to physical therapy?

As an athlete, your vast experience in the sporting arena has left a lasting mark on you as a person. Those memories of victories and losses, strong bonds with teammates, life lessons from coaches and the indescribable pains and triumphs of complete physical exertion will be hard to forget.

After reading this article, you now realize there is no reason to leave such a powerful experience behind. In fact, becoming a physical therapy assistant is a great opportunity for you to apply all that you have learned from sports. In fact, it may be near the top of the list of jobs for former athletes to consider.

Are you convinced you need to know more? Check out this article if you are ready to learn the ins and outs of how to become a physical therapist assistant, “How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant (and Why You Shouldn’t Hesitate).”


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Emily Hayden

Emily is a freelance writer for Collegis Education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. Her excitement about research and writing comes from 7 years of teaching junior high language arts, and she believes in the value of writing's ability to educate and empower both the writer and the reader.

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