Dream’s athletic trainer took roundabout career path

Submitted photo Natalie Trotter

Third in a series

The MSR recently attended a four-day virtual “So You Want A Career in Athletics” (SYWACIA) sports leadership academy for girls and young women of color in sports. Afterwards, several panelists and speakers agreed to share with us, as they did with the attendees, their individual career journeys and lessons learned in their fields. Coaching, executive leadership, sports medicine, and entrepreneurship will be addressed in this multi-part series.

This week: One door closes, a career door opens

Originally on the athlete track, Natalie Trotter got derailed so to speak, and found a better track to pursue. Trotter is among a select few Black female athletic trainers (AT). 

Athletic trainers are licensed, certified health professionals. According to Zippia, 45% of all ATs are women but nearly 11% are Black females, the same percentage as in 2011. Both White men and women make more money than all other groups, about a $2,000-$3,000 difference.

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Trotter has been an AT for over 10 years, working mainly in college sport. She has since last season been the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream head AT. “Prior to moving to Georgia,” said the Shubuta, Mississippi native, “I worked at Arkansas State (2008-12), and then I worked at the University of Arkansas (2012-19).” 

While in high school, Trotter said her coach’s son, then the team’s athletic trainer, impressed her: “I just kind of took an interest at that point… [By my] senior year of high school, I already knew I was going to go to the local community college [to study physical therapy],” she recalled.

But once in college, Trotter reached a crossroad. “I was able to walk on to the basketball team and also at the same time had been offered a work-study position with the athletic trainers,” she recalled. “I had to make a decision if I wanted to [play] basketball or do the student assistant position.”

She soon learned that the decision was made for her: “I was not welcomed back for my second year. I quickly figured out that I was not going to have a career in basketball or athletics. So I just switched roles, and I was able to observe the two athletic trainers that we had at Jones County Junior College.

“It just really blossomed from there,” said Trotter, with no regrets. Later, with her degree in sports medicine and athletic training from Valdosta State (2006), and her master’s in sport and fitness management from Troy University (2008), her AT career took off. Trotter was named athletic trainer of the year in Arkansas in 2015.

On her current position with the Dream, she said, “I must admit I’ve never had the aspirations of being an athletic trainer in the professional ranks because I do have a passion for collegiate athletes. I worked in collegiate athletics for 12 years.” She likes the relationship-building with college players as well as watching them progress in their maturity, she added.

There is a difference in pro sports, Trotter observed. “These are professional athletes. Most of them take care of themselves a little bit better or a little bit differently. I can’t say better, [but] a little bit differently because of the time they spend overseas.

“I am a service to them, so whatever it is that they need, it’s my responsibility to figure out from a health and safety standpoint how to get them taken care of and hopefully performing at their best,” said Trotter proudly.

Trotter was among the speakers last month at the So You Want A Career In Athletics academy via Zoom. She advised the young Black female attendees not to be discouraged in seeking a career in sports—even in a profession such as hers that desperately needs diversity.

“You have to just be intentional,” she stressed. “If you want something and if you really, really know you want it, then you have to put forth the work. Nobody’s going to necessarily just give it to you. Sometimes things just kind of happen and work in your favor.

“I’m grateful for the two guys that took me in and allowed me to…just sit in the corner and watch them,” Trotter said, “because that’s where my love of athletic training actually truly began. It happened for a reason.”

Next in the series: a sports training entrepreneur