I was so excited to get my first chance to work in sport.
Walking through the staff entrance to the rink, players were running around getting equipment, doing their warm ups and reporting to medical staff. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I stood in awe.
One by one, the training staff introduced themselves to me. Chiropractor, Sport Med Doctors and equipment managers all welcomed me to the team.
Then it was time to get to work.
Sport Med Doc was assessing a player with a concussion, the AT was doing some taping and players were popping in to get some work done from the Chiro. As the Chiropractor was getting ready to do some manipulation, he introduced me to another player and asked me to work through his low back before he did any work with him.
Player after player worked their way through before the game started. There was almost a pageantry to it in my mind. Watching each health care person work together in combination with the equipment managers to get everything and everyone ready before the game.
It felt so amazing being around the team and seeing what happens behind the scenes. As a student, sitting there watching and listening to those healthcare professionals doing their assessments and talking about what was going on with each player (and actually understanding them) made it that much more amazing.
This is why I wanted to be a Massage Therapist.
Getting Into Working With A Team As A Massage Therapist
When I decided to become a Massage Therapist, one of my main goals was to work with athletes and be involved in sport.
I talked to a few of my teachers in college about their experience. Some had been to olympics, some worked with specific teams and some worked with everyday athletes in their clinics.
While in term two of college, a buddy from my hometown was playing on the local Junior A hockey team. So, I gave him a call to see if they had a Massage Therapist on the team, he said they had an Athletic Therapist, Chiropractor and Sport Med Doctors, but no Massage.
Maybe I had an in.
Talking with one of my teachers who works in sports and is heavily involved in the X games, I asked for his advice on how to approach the team. The advice he gave, helped me to have a better outlook on how different Athletic Therapists look at roles on teams and where everyone should fit in.
His advice was to find out what kind of work the A.T. was doing with the team. Some like to do their own massage and don’t want to outsource it or have someone else do it for them. “Find out if he does his own massage, so that you’re not going to step on his toes or take something away from him by getting involved”. He told me to use my First Responder background as another manner in which I could help the team, in case he did his own massage.
Armed with his advice I approached the team A.T. one night after their game was over.
I explained that I was a student looking to get some experience. He was pretty happy to hear about my First Responder background and was gracious enough to have me start coming to games and helping out.
6 Tips For Working In Sport Massage
Working in sport can be a tough scene to get into.
Some people have to work their but off to get into it and others can end up just falling into it. Either way, if it’s something you’re interested in, here’s a few tips to help you get started.
- Get your First Responder license. It is almost worth its weight in gold. Not only do most teams need someone to act as a First Responder, it will add to your clinic experience as well. Being able to recognize and deal with medical emergencies in a confident manner not only adds to a patients confidence in you, but can literally be a life saver in the clinic or in the sport environment. In fact some leagues require teams to have a certain number of First Responders at every game, it could be one of the things that gets you in the door. Over the years I have done far more First Responder work than Massage Therapy working with the team.
- Volunteer in a sport you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about the sport, you won’t even feel like you’re working when you go there, you will actually look forward to it. There is also a reward in knowing that you are one of the people who contributed to the athletes and team success.
- When approaching a team, go directly to the head trainer. Little did I know (until someone else on the team told me), the biggest reason the A.T. welcomed me to the team is because I approached him directly and not the front office staff. The head trainer is in charge of all medical and therapy issues with the team and they are in control. Having someone come in the back door because another team person brought you in isn’t going to go over very well. Always try to contact the head trainer and talk to them.
- Look to see if you have any local Sport Massage organizations you can join up with. Once I joined CSMTA (Canadian Sport Massage Therapy Association) I was given the chance to work with the Rugby Canada National Men’s 7’s team because their main Massage Therapist wanted to use therapists from that organization. Here in BC we recently started a Sport Professional Practice Group that is focusing on Massage Therapists becoming more recognized in sport. Reach out to these types of organizations to see if there are opportunities in your area to get involved.
- Be willing to help with things other than massage. Need water bottles filled?, towels for the athletes?, equipment issues? Be there to help out with all aspects of what happens behind the scenes. As much as the athletes are a team, so is the background staff, make sure you’re an important part of the team.
- Always be willing to learn from the other medical professionals you’re working with, you will learn a lot which will add to your experience and make it more positive.
If you’re interested in sport massage, get out in your community and see what’s available. It doesn’t matter what level the team is, it will be a way to get experience, build your network and help increase business.
The Benefits Of Volunteering In Sport Massage
This is where some therapists have a hard time.
Getting paid in Sport Massage can take some time. There are some organizations out there that are willing to pay and others that are regulated by governing bodies who decide on funding and what gets paid for.
For instance, in Canada OTP (Own The Podium) decides on funding for Olympic athletes and organizations as well as where the funding is spent. So some teams may be bound by whatever funding is given as far as therapy.
In private teams, the team will typically have a budget they work in and will decide whether having a Massage Therapist is something they can afford.
As difficult as it may be to find the time to volunteer, there are other benefits.
In the past I have taken days at the rink to work on players where the team doctor signed insurance documents for whenever a player needed some Massage Therapy. I would then fill out the signed document, submit it and get paid via the league’s insurance policy. The turn around to get paid is a little slow but hey, I was working in the sport I love.
The team Chiropractor sends me more referrals to the clinic than any other source the clinic uses, or any marketing I have ever done. I counted up one week a little while ago and in a five day period, half of the patients I saw, came from that Chiropractor. So even though the majority of my work with the team is on a volunteer basis, he has sent me a lot of business over the years.
Being able to say you work with a local team changes the way patients look at you, especially new ones. A number of times I have had people book in with me because they see that I work with the team and they want a therapist that can help with athletic injuries. The hockey team’s front office even tries their best to refer people to me and some even bring family members in.
I get asked several times a year by other therapists interested in working in sport if I know of opportunities for them. I still think the best way to get in is just by marketing yourself to different teams and volunteering your time to get started. The paid positions will come, but they don’t always come easy. By taking continuing ed courses based around sport (like First Responder), making sure to approach team head trainers, joining Sport Massage organizations, volunteering where you’re passionate and having a great work ethic are all steps that will get you closer to being able to work in sport. But whatever sport you’re passionate about and decide to get into, (keep in mind I’m Canadian) it’s just not as cool as hockey.