Most fans are well aware of who the head coach and assistant manager is at their club, but knowledge of who's who behind the scenes usually stops there. The fact is, at any professional football club, there are a large number of members of backroom staff dedicated to the successful performance of the first team. And one important role within this set-up is that of the sports massage therapist.
Massage therapy plays an important role within professional football. When it comes to post-match recovery and rehabilitation, having a professional sports massage therapist at your club on a day-to-day basis is crucial. Along with the rest of the medical team, these staff members contribute to a safe, comfortable, relaxed working environment that's dedicated to creating the best conditions for top performances on the pitch.
In this article, we'll be explaining what the job of a massage therapist in football involves. Once we've cleared that up, we'll provide you with some tips on how to become a sports massage therapist. Let's get into it.
When you see a professional footballer limp off the pitch after sustaining an injury, do you ever wonder what the post-match treatment might look like? This is where the role of the sports massage therapist comes into play.
The main purpose of sports massage therapy is to use massage techniques to treat athletes and help them recover from injuries and problems. These could be injuries, pains, and knocks sustained during training or a match, but equally the role of a therapist involves providing treatment for other problems that have arisen in different aspects of daily life. Working to implement a process of rehabilitation, their aim is to reduce pain and inflammation, ease discomfort, and decrease the likelihood of long-term impacts or repeat injuries.
One of the key areas of concern that massage therapy looks to tackle is muscle pain. Issues with ligaments, joints, and tendons are also examined. Ultimately, therapists are looking to alleviate any symptoms of pain, although they can often be more long-term in their thinking, too. For instance, therapists can try to reduce inflammation, encourage improvements to muscle function, and reduce the chances of future injuries arising.
How do sports massages work? Essentially, these types of massages involve manipulating soft tissue to the benefit of the athlete receiving treatment. Soft tissue (a form of connective tissue that isn't hardened into bone and cartilage) includes skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (a connective tissue that lines and ensheathes other soft tissues). Performing soft tissue massage after repetitive and strenuous physical activity can have a seriously positive impact; however, working in this industry does require a number of different skills...
A variety of skills are needed to perform effectively within a sports massage therapy role, and we don't just mean in terms of the soft tissue massaging itself. We've condensed this section into three key skills that are worth bearing in mind if you're looking to get into this line of work.
#1. Sports medicine and science knowledge - Before we get into the soft skills that are needed within this profession, it's important that we drum home how important scientific knowledge is here. Before becoming a massage therapist, you'll need to undergo a period of training that gets you up to speed with all the medical knowledge you'll require in this role. You need to know how the body works and what the best ways to manipulate soft tissue are in order to achieve different aims in different circumstances. After all, every athlete is different.
#2. Communication skills - Communication is also an important aspect of the job. Sports massage therapists need to be able to communicate with their clients in a simple, informative way, letting them know the problems they've identified and accurately telling them what kind of treatment is required. Some clients will enjoy silence during treatments, while others may want to chat throughout a massage; a good therapist should be able to deal with each situation and always seek to make their clients comfortable.
#3. Empathy - You need to be able to relate to your clients on a personal level, because you're going to working with them in very intimate environments. In order to understand and best treat the different pains and ailments your clients are experiencing, you'll have to be able to empathise with them, put yourself in their shoes and offer adequate levels of support.
Okay, it's crunch time. In order to help you take the next steps, we've compiled a list of top tips on how to become a sports massage therapist. Different readers may be at different stages of their journey within this profession, so feel free to take in whatever information is most useful to you. Ultimately, this is a personal journey; however, follow these steps and you'll certainly be on the right path.
The first step on this road is a simple one. Before you get started with any formal training, it can be super useful to visit a local treatment facility and get a sports massage as a client. It could be the most relaxing preparation for a job opportunity you'll ever do!
Attending sessions as a client can be useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, you'll start to get an idea of what a typical session might look like in terms of structure, and you'll be able to notice what therapists do in order to offer effective care and treatment. By learning from a few different therapists, you can view how sessions and techniques can vary, working out how you might adapt your process individually. Another key aspect of this kind of informal research is the opportunity for relaxed questions: you can ask your therapist how they got their position, if it's a job they enjoy, or whether there is a program or course they'd recommend.
Supplement this kind of informal research by heading to Google and finding out everything you can about what the job of a sports massage therapy entails and what the realities of this industry are. It's always worth doing plenty of your own research to gain a better picture of what you're letting yourself in for.
Completing a course in sports massage therapy is the best way to properly kickstart your career. There are a number of institutions, for example the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, that offer opportunities for you to gain a qualification that will support your career development. The exact organisation you train with will depends on the country you live in, while it's also important to note that different courses cover different topics and focuses.
Typically, a course will take around 12 weeks to complete. The first goal is to achieve a Level 3 diploma, after which you will be able to undertake further courses and boost your professional credentials.
By studying sports massage therapy or a related subject at undergraduate degree level, you can build on your prior education and further improve your skill set. More basic qualifications are useful, but they do not permit you to diagnose clients. By attending university to get an undergraduate degree, you can reach this level — if you want to work in an elite sports environment, this is definitely advised.
Once you've completed the adequate training and built a strong idea of what being a massage therapist involves, you should start looking for employment opportunities. Practice your techniques and network with other people in the industry so that you're on their radar. Look at jobs websites such as Jobs in Football and speak to people in roles that you might enjoy to see how they got there. Go to jobs fairs, and keep your eyes peeled! Hopefully, you'll find something that suits you.
Follow these steps, and you'll soon set yourself on the path to becoming a sports massage therapist. Whether you're hoping to be employed directly by a football club, or you'd rather work for an alternative organisation or within a different sport, we hope our guidance has been useful.
Considering other potential career paths within football and elite sport more broadly? Our blog contains various other guides to specialist jobs in football, from data and analytics to youth coaching. Why not start by reading our article on how to become a sports analyst?
Put simply, the main difference between a sports massage and a deep tissue massage is that deep tissue massages are better for relief from general pain and tension, whereas sports massages will be used to treat specific injuries and repetitive strains or sprains that have built up over time in certain soft tissue and muscle areas.
Most professional football clubs employ sports massage therapists as a way of giving first-team players round-the-clock access to top quality sports massage treatment. In post-match recovery and post-injury rehabilitation, this type of treatment work is crucial, so it makes sense to have employees based at your training ground who are able to complete it whenever it's needed.
Sports massage therapy is just one area of employment that can give you access to amazing opportunities working at a professional football club. There are a number of other roles available at football clubs, and our blog is packed with insider interviews that shine a light on how to succeed in different aspects of the industry. Why not start by checking out our conversations with international sports lawyer Jessie Engelhart or Brighton CEO Paul Barber