Sports therapy is an aspect of fitness/healthcare and nutrition concerned with prevention of injury and rehabilitation. They’re also sometimes known as athletics trainers. There are numerous ways into the industry, through leisure centres, sports clubs, schools and other routes. Here, we explore some of the more common ways to have a career in sports therapy.
What is the difference between a sports therapist and a sports massage therapist?
A sports massage therapist will be more concerned with the knowledge and therapy associated with specific soft tissues, fascia, tendons and ligaments. While not as advanced as a sports therapy course which basically starts from scratch, these courses might be better suited to anyone who is already working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, for example, and wishes to diversify into sports. Two diplomas are available with Premier Global NASM, at Level 3 and 4, or you might try our Corrective Exercise Specialism course which concentrates on clients who may be suffering from common musculoskeletal impairments and imbalances, or post rehab concerns.
What does a sports therapist do?
Typical responsibilities of a sports therapist may include:
- Prepare athletes mentally and physically for upcoming events, training and practice
- Researching preparation methods for sports, such as stretching and warming up properly
- Giving first aid if required, and learning associated techniques and best practice; assessing and treating injuries, and researching further teaching
- Gait analysis
- Working with sports people’s trainers, coaches, and sometimes teammates and family, to establish the best route to full fitness and rehabilitation
- Advising on nutrition, diet and lifestyle issues
- Helping people back to full fitness after accidents/family issues, etc
- Learning techniques for massages, strapping, taping etc
- Advising on whether sportspeople should participate or continue to participate in games/events
- Referral to specialists, GPs, nutritionists and other experts for further treatment
What other skills do I need?
The skillset of a typical therapist should not only include anatomical, biological, and nutritional knowledge, but also compassion and understanding. You’re often dealing with people who are not at their best, recuperating after bad illnesses or setbacks. Motivational skills are important, as is confidentiality. Good organisation is key to creating a good recovery schedule, so you need to be adept at establishing and following your plans.
You’ve also got to be confident in your own abilities and that you are doing the right thing, especially with sportspeople who have had a history of injuries. That takes bravery, and communication skills, in explaining what you’re doing. It should go without saying that you will keep an eye on the latest good practice, and not be afraid to seek advice from experienced therapists online, face-to-face or over the phone. You should also be physically fit yourself!
Be sure to check out PG-NASM's fitness CPD courses for more related educational specialisations to equip you for the job.
Where are sports therapists employed?
Many sports therapists are self-employed, working in a range of environments and locations across the country. Full time opportunities do exist at sports injury clinics and alongside professional and amateur teams, and sometimes with individual sportspeople. Adverts may appear on noticeboards and social media, and sometimes established job vacancy sites.
As with any job, the more contacts you have in your location, or within your niche, the better your chances of success. It’s certainly worth contacting clubs/trainers/physios/established therapists to gain work experience, and perhaps seeing if you can ‘shadow’ on match/event day. The more different types of people and issues you deal with, the wider your pool of contacts and knowledge will become. Be prepared for extensive travel, across the UK and perhaps to other nations.
A sports therapist may typically start on a salary of around £17,000, but this can soon rise with experience up to the £30,000 mark. If you work for a specific club the salary might vary. With time, you could also become a lecturer/assistant lecturer in sports therapy.
Is sports therapy a good degree?
It’s not mandatory to possess a degree to practise as a sports therapist, but so many jobs expect one that it really is becoming the only way to starting a successful career in the field.
You can only become a member of the Society of Sports Therapists with a degree, such as BSc (Hons) Sports Therapy, MSc Sports Therapy or a Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Therapy from a University or College with which The Society has a collaborative agreement.
There are many such degree courses available across the country, with similar curricula, lasting three years (full-time) through to part-time (five years). Typically, a student will study anatomy and physiology in the first year while gaining a first-aid qualification, perhaps alongside a university team. In the second year you’ll learn more about assessing injuries and planning rehabilitation exercises, while in the third year knowledge on more complex complaints/issues such as spinal injuries will be introduced.
You may also be required to complete an independent dissertation, and be placed with various sports clubs/leisure centres in different locations across the country so you can experience working conditions in real-life situations. As an example of what someone training to be a sports therapist might experience, The Worcester Observer highlighted the story of three pupils who enjoyed a placement with Premier Spanish basketball club champions Valencia, ranging from rehabilitation classes to training preparation, as well as a day in clinic, a game day and a tour of the facilities.
Once qualified, you may wish to expand further into other avenues to continue your training and gain more CPD points. Sports nutrition, electrotherapy, sports psychology, and other similar courses may all be of interest, and will look good on your CV as you look for clients.
It may also be worth specialising in one or two sports that you like, as opposed to being a more generic sports trainer. As one might imagine, sports therapy for golfers is different to boxers, and different again for marathon runners. Therefore, gaining more experience in a narrower field, rather than less experience but across more sports, could be beneficial.