An interview with a sports therapist

Jenny is a lecturer in sports therapy at the University of Hertfordshire and is also the sports therapist for the England U18 Men's basketball team

What path did you take to become a sports therapist?I studied the 3 year degree at what was then University College Chichester which is now Chichester University. Whist at Uni I made every effort to gain as much work experience as possible to maximise my chances of employment after graduating. Once I had graduated in 2004 I starting work part time with a semi professional football club and in two sports injury clinics, one physiotherapy and one chiropractic clinic.

After 6 months working I decided I wanted to gain more experience in sport so decided to spend a month in a University in America where I worked in the Athletic Training room giving me access to athletes from a large variety of sports. Whilst there, I spent quite some time with the Men’s basketball team where my love for the game increased even more. This led to me making the decision that I wanted to work full time in basketball if possible.

On return to the UK I managed to secure a full time job with a professional team in the British Basketball League. Unfortunately the club folded in 2006 so I moved on to begin lecturing at the University of Hertfordshire. Whilst taking a slight detour from full time practice I was very keen to maintain my hands-on sports therapy, since joining the University of Hertfordshire I have worked with Saracens Rugby and Arsenal Ladies Academies as well as UK athletics.

Throughout my career so far I have maintained my passion for basketball and for the past 3 years have been the Sports Therapist for the England U18 Men’s team.

What are the best and worst things about your job?There are many best parts about being a sports therapist, I truly love the job. It can be very rewarding when players return to full fitness and can play again. Being part of a very close team experiencing the highs and lows together is something else that makes the job really enjoyable.

There are obviously negative aspects to the job as with everything. One of the main points I would consider negative is when working full time in sport it is extremely time consuming and hours are not predictable. Working at the crack of dawn and into the night as well as every weekend can be very demanding on your time but not only on you but it also has a knock on effect on your family at home. This is by far the biggest disadvantage of working in sport. I find the best way to get round this though is to work in a sport your family like and can therefore come and watch, it keeps them happy too!

What is the best advice you can give people wanting a career in sports therapy?The key to success in this profession is motivation, determination and love of sports. If you are considering entering into the profession I would recommend getting as much experience in as many sports as possible. Get yourself a first aid certificate and volunteer yourself at saturday league games or help out with a local sports or physiotherapist. The Society of Sports Therapists website is a key source of information for anyone interested in the profession.

What would a normal day be like for a sports therapist?My current career is slightly different to a full time sports therapist as I lecture at the University of Hertfordshire as well, but I have recently returned from a European Basketball Championships in Bosnia so I will give you an example of a day there.

On a game day we would wake early and have breakfast as a team. Following this we would have a short break before training which I would use to treat any injured players or get on with all the pre-training preparation such as taping and massage to the players which required it.

Any new injuries that had occurred in the game the previous night would also be assessed in this time. A decision on whether they could train and/or play would be made. The team would then all go to training where I would be available for any players that got injured during this time. If there were any injured players, the training time would often be used to run rehabilitation sessions using the spare courts.

After training I would take all the players to the swimming pool to run a cool down session. Following lunch the players had a team meeting which I would also attend. The management team would meet immediately before this when my role as a sports therapist was to provide details of any injured players and whether they could play or not. Depending on the time of the game there may be an hour or so break for some rest but if the game was early I would begin pre-match preparation after lunch and then travel to the game. At the game I would sit on the bench and be prepared to treat any injuries that occurred, which in this tournament was many!

Following the game my role would be to organise a cool down and then assess any injuries and treat any acute injuries immediately. I also had responsibility for the players’ nutrition and rehydration. After treating the players and having dinner I was then free to relax which depending on game time could be very late in the day. This is an example of a tournament scenario, every day would be similar but less hectic, just a slightly scaled down version.

What are the different types of organizations and workplaces that hire sports therapists?When I first graduated in 2004 the employability of a sports therapist was limited and it took a lot of motivation and perseverance to get a job. Fortunately this is no longer the case. Sports Therapy is becoming widely recognised and there is currently employment in professional sports clubs, various types of sports injury clinics, working with disabled athletes, in organised events such as marathons and much more. The degree also allows people to go on to further study, a number of students go on to become teachers or study Masters programmes.

What made you want to become a sports therapist?I have always had a real love of all sports and have participated in athletics and basketball since a young age. It was whilst competing for the south of England in athletics that I damaged my knee which resulted in two years of various treatment to no avail and led to a doctor telling me I could no longer participate in athletics.

It was heart breaking. Being very persistent, I did not like being told I couldn’t do something so I decided I would get educated so that I could fix myself and not let others go through the same experience I had. It was then that I found out about the Sports Therapy degree and it sounded perfect. Two years later I started at Chichester.

What action can university students take to establish themselves as an attractive candidate to future employers?Since taking on the lecturing job at the University of Hertfordshire I have made it a priority to help make our students highly employable. We run events on CV writing and covering letters as well as implementing clinical experience into the degree and providing the option of a sandwich year placement. In my opinion there are many things students can do whilst studying but the key is gaining as much experience as possible. This will often mean volunteering at local sports clubs or events, generally getting out and experiencing the working world. It is also important for student so have the academic skills to communicate effectively.