When I decided to go back to school to be a Massage Therapist, the one thing that made me decide on this new profession was the chance to work with athletes and sports teams.
The whole idea of working with teams always had a certain lure to me, getting to be part of that team environment always seemed more appealing than strictly working in a clinic.
While in college I was lucky enough to start working with our local Junior A hockey club and continued working with them for seven years, even being the head trainer and medical director for one season. During that season, I did some travel with the team to other parts of the province and got the feel of what it’s like to be on the road with a team, dealing with transport, setting up dressing rooms, loading and reloading the bus with equipment and all the other issues that happen on the road.
Because of putting in the time volunteering with that team, some other great opportunities have come my way. I got to spend a year working with our Rugby 7’s men’s national team, and in 2016 I got my first opportunity to work with our national women’s development program in hockey.
Since working with the women’s development program, I’ve had two opportunities to travel internationally with them. I thought I knew the work and effort it takes to work with a team from my past experience, but working and travelling internationally takes on a whole other level of work and work ethic to be successful.
I know many of our readers are interested in this type of work, so I’ll try to outline what an average couple of days looks like work-wise, so you’ll know what you’re getting into if this is your chosen area of interest.
While I’m sure it’s different for every sport and probably every venue, it takes a ton of work to get things set up at hotels, dressing rooms, and whatever venue you are using to help the athletes throughout a tournament.
You aren’t doing strictly massage therapy when you’re on the road, you’re helping out wherever is needed, plus covering some aspects you may not have thought of (keep in mind this is just three days of a three-week trip).
5:00 am – Light snack
5:30 am – Athlete exercise routine
6:00 am – Team meetings/presentations
6:30 am – Team practice/dryland
7:00 am – Regular breakfast
7:30 am – Morning session with S&C coach
7:45 – 9:10am – Practice session for some athletes
10:00am – 12:00pm – Physio & Massage Therapy treatments
1:30 pm – Pregame Meal
3:10 pm – Athletes and coaches meeting
3:45 pm – Dryland warmup
4:30 pm – On ice warmup for both teams
5:00 pm – Game time
5:10 pm – Athlete cool down
8:20 pm – Dinner
9:00 pm – Staff meeting
5:00 am – Light snack
5:30 am – Athlete exercise routine
5:45 am – Team meetings/presentations
6:30 am – Breakfast
6:50 am – Athletes and coaches meeting
7:15 am – Dryland warmup
8:00am – 9:15am – Team practice
9:30 am – Athlete cooldown
9:30 am – 10:15 am – Help equipment manager pack up the dressing room and load all equipment on the bus
10:30 am – Lunch
12:15 pm – Load all team luggage on the bus
12:30 pm – Leave for airport
1:45 pm – Check all baggage and equipment in through airport security
5:05 pm – Flight leaves
6:30 am – Land for connecting flight
10:10am – Connecting flight departs
3:25 pm – Land in destination, collect luggage, load bus
6:00 pm – Check into hotel
6:30 pm – Dinner
7:00 pm – All support staff (medical, logistics, equipment manager etc) set up athletes dressing room, medical room, and all associated equipment.
9:10 pm – Staff meeting (time depending on dressing room setup completion)
8:15 am – Breakfast
8:45 am – Athlete and coaches meeting
9:30 am – Dryland warmup
10:00 am – 11:45 am – Practice
12:00 pm – Athlete cool down
12:40 pm – Lunch
1:15 pm – Team meetings/presentations
2:00 pm – 4:00 pm – Physio and Massage Therapy treatments
4:30 pm – Light meal
5:30 pm – Dryland warmup
6:00 pm – 7:15pm – Practice
7:25 pm – Athlete cool down
8:30 pm – Dinner
9:00 pm – 10:00 pm – Treatment window for Physio and Massage
10:10 pm – Staff meeting
7:15 am – Breakfast
7:45 am – Athlete and coaches meeting
8:15 am – Dryland warmup
9:00 am – 9:45 am – Pregame Skate
9:55 am – Athlete cool down
11:00 am – Light lunch
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm – Physio and Massage Therapy treatments
3:30 pm – Pregame Meal
4:50 pm – Athlete and coaches meeting
5:45 pm – Dryland warmup
6:30 pm – On ice warmup for both teams
7:00 pm – Game time
9:10 pm – Athlete cool down
10:30 pm – Dinner
11:00pm – Staff meeting
So when you look through this schedule, everywhere it talks about dryland warmup, athlete cool down, and practices, at least one member of the medical team is expected to be in attendance. Typically one member attends while the other therapist tends to some other tasks like filling game water bottles, getting ice, making up ice bags, or helping the equipment manager if needed (essentially doing the background work that isn’t typically thought about). Sometimes the practices and warmups etc. overlap each other depending on how the schedule is set, so you could be covering one practice and another medical staff member is covering the other one.
During game times I would go up and help the video coach by shooting video during the game, while the physiotherapist is on the bench. Essentially everyone has a job description, so each members time is utilized and productive.
If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you’ve seen articles stressing the need for us as a profession to be certified in First Aid training. In sports, it’s even more important to be trained as a First Responder. In cases like this, anytime there is an emergency with one of the athletes, the Massage Therapist is part of the emergency action plan and is expected to take part in the injury or emergency, whether it’s on the ice, or off.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get this training if working in sports is your interest!
The Team Within The Team
All of the staff are literally another team, within a sports team, it’s not just about the athletes working together.
As I mentioned before, you could be tasked with some menial work (filling water bottles etc.) while another member of the medical staff is working directly with the athletes at a warm up or cool down.
You can’t have an ego about this!
Even if you work with a team at home and you’re the head trainer, that may not be your role when you travel with a national team. They will have a specific job description for you, and it’s important you adhere to it. There are some really long days where you could be setting up a dressing room, or loading equipment for travel (and not actually do any massage), while the coaches are doing their prep work, logistics are organizing travel, and other members are filling the role for whatever their responsibility is.
But just like the athletes who may be playing a smaller role on the team than they play at home, everyone comes together as a team to accomplish a goal. EVERYONE is filing a different role than they are used to. There will be days you get frustrated, you’ll be tired, and maybe even annoyed with other staff members. But part of being on a team is the ability to put that aside, come together, and work for the benefit of the athlete, it’s about them, not you.
However, if you are willing to work, put your ego aside and do this kind of work, the benefits are phenomenal. The friendships you’ll make, the pride of not only helping the athletes performance but also representing your country (or whatever organization you’re working with) is incomparable. Plus, you may even end up with a cool picture and a medal at the end of it all.