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. and students are benefiting -- both on the playing field, and in the classroom.
NBC's Erika Edwards reports.
Erin Carlson doesn't miss a beat...
Erin Carlson - certified athletic trainer: "i am here from the minute practice starts to the minute practice ends and beyond."
she is a most valuable player, when it comes to the health and safety of all the athletes at harding university high school in charlotte, north carolina.
Erin Carlson - certified athletic trainer: "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."
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.
Erin Carlson - certified athletic trainer: "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."
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.
Jon Almquist - certified athletic trainer: "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."
according to the national athletic trainers' association -- less than half of high schools nationwide have access to athletic trainers.
Jon Almquist - certified athletic trainer: "if you don't have an athletic trainer there, who's taking care of your kids?"
for these kids -- it's erin carlson.
Erin Carlson - certified athletic trainer: "i prefer watching them play. that's where i get my joy is knowing that i've helped an athlete come back from an injury and he's out there being successful again."
recent scientific insight into heat illness and concussions has led most states to pass youth sports safety laws.