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Massage Today
January, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 01

How to Work With Professional Athletes

By John G. Louis, CMT

I received a lot of reader e-mails after my article appeared in the July 2006 issue of Massage Today ("Massage at the World Series").

In that article, I wrote about my experiences working as the massage therapist for the Chicago White Sox during the 2005 World Series. Additionally, I went into some detail about my 26-year career in professional sports.

The question I kept getting asked over and over again was, "How can I get into pro sports?" So, I wanted to comprehensively answer this question for the readers of Massage Today. I've said for years that one of the most important things a professional athlete can do for themselves is to receive regular therapeutic massage. Just like proper rest and good nutrition, therapeutic massage is absolutely necessary in order to help optimize performance, prevent injury and help injured tissue heal faster, reduce competition anxiety, and achieve career longevity.

Surprisingly, there still are many professional athletes who do not understand this need and currently don't use therapeutic massage. However, there has been growth. In 1980, when I started working in professional sports full-time as a massage therapist, there were only a handful of us in the entire country. Today, more and more professional athletes are receiving treatment, but there still is a lot of room in this largely untapped market.

These are my specific recommendations for those of you who have a desire to work with professional athletes.

  • Get Advanced Training. Athletes almost always have soft-tissue issues. You need to have very good palpatory skills. Your ability to quickly assess a condition and treat it properly is essential. Neuromuscular massage is my personal favorite. This training can give you incredibly useful skills and the understanding you'll need to work effectively. There are several excellent educators to choose from. Do your research and find the best one for you.
  • Get Experience. I would wait until you have at least a couple of years as a therapist under your belt before going after this goal. The team likely is going to want to see a deep résumé, and that time served will help you prepare. I also would look into volunteering your time working with amateur athletes at local high schools or junior colleges. It also would give you an excellent opportunity to see how athletic trainers work and think.
  • Get Connected. This probably will not be an easy thing to do. Sending your résumé to teams probably won't work. However, if you're creative, you might be able find ways to meet and work on pro athletes. Find out where their training camp is or what health club they go to. Introduce yourself and let them know you're interested in working with them. It could open doors for you. My first connection to professional sports came through a health club where the Chicago Horizons soccer team trained. I started working with the players one by one, and I shared with them my desire to work full-time with the team. One thing led to another, and one day, the coach came in and offered me a job. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. My foot was firmly in the door.
  • Get to Know the Athletic Trainer. The team trainer has incredible power. In fact, they likely will be the deciding factor as to whether you will get a job. They also are likely to be your boss in the event you do get a job. The trainer has to know that you will work with him and be submissive to his treatment protocols and not contradict them. It's more important than selling the athlete on your skills or abilities. From 1982 through 1988, I was the massage therapist and assistant trainer for the Chicago Sting soccer team. The head trainer's name was Jerry Carter. Early on in my tenure with the team, Jerry said to me, "I like you and believe me, if I didn't, you wouldn't be here!" Thankfully, we are still good friends to this day.
  • Get Tenacious. In 1983, I met and gave a massage to professional golfer Lee Elder. At the time, he was a successful player on the PGA Tour. Loving golf as much as I did, I shared with him how much I wanted to work with the PGA Tour. He encouraged me, saying, "We need someone like you out there." I contacted the commissioner of the PGA Tour in hopes that he would be interested in talking with me. I already had three years of experience working with professional athletes and I had a connection through Lee Elder. They didn't hire me, but they did allow me to travel to some of the tournaments and provide massage to the players, who paid me directly for treatment. It was an amazing time. I got to work with many of the world's best golfers and had a lot of fun doing it. It was going to be too expensive to continue long-term, but I derived an incredible experience from that effort. Don't be afraid to take risks; it could pay off big.

Good luck and contact me with any questions you might have.

Click here for previous articles by John G. Louis, CMT.


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