I have been a massage therapist for 40 years, specializing in athletics.
The role of the massage therapist has improved dramatically during the last 20 years, especially when compared to the early 1970s, when I earned my license as a massage therapist in Florida.
Massage is now a significant factor in sports performance recovery. The massage therapist can have a profound effect on both the physical and mental aspects of the athletic client through structured and knowledgeable touch.
The challenge to address athletes’ needs has always been—and continues to be—convincing coaches, athletic trainers and sports agents of massage’s benefits. It has never been about convincing the athletes, because once they experience massage therapy, their acute body awareness provides all the necessary proof of its tremendous therapeutic contribution.
Marketing sports massage centers on education. The best marketing for sports massage means educating strength coaches and certified athletic trainers. Both of these professionals understand the critical importance of recovery. Sports agents will spend thousands of dollars on technique-and-skill coaches for the athlete they represent, to help him throw a football farther, shoot a basketball more accurately or run bases faster. Very few agents think about or concern themselves with the physical-recovery aspects of athletic performance; those aspects include massage. Educating these professionals on the massage profession can change all of that.
Look the Part
You have one chance to make a first impression. The best marketing is done when you look familiar to the athletic trainer and coach; meaning, how you dress will set the tone of marketing sports massage to your target audience. In your first meeting with a coach, agent or athlete, you must look the part and come across as familiar to the sports world you wish to be involved in. So, show up for your meeting with the athletic trainer, coach or athletic director dressed like you are ready to go to work. Know the history of the team and most recent seasons of competition. Know the names of key athletes and their position or event. Wear the team colors when you appear for your first impression. Make sure you fit in visually, like you belong there.
If you are interested in working with a specific sport, study it, understand it, and know the culture of that sport so you can blend in and speak the language. This is important in establishing trust and credibility.
Face-to-face meetings are great, but often challenging to arrange because of busy sports schedules. In this age of technology and social media, there are many avenues available to introduce yourself and your sports massage services to prospective athletes, athletic trainers, coaches and sports agents. YouTube, for example, has become an easy-access vehicle for video introductions and explanations.
Be a Team Player
What distinguishes good sports massage is the focus of the therapist being on treatment strategy and not treatment technique. Having a good strategy to address the primary complaints and concerns of the athlete’s performance potential makes the difference.
The involvement of the sports massage therapist with the athletic trainer when addressing soft-tissue injury can be extremely useful in optimizing the injury repair process. For example, physical hurdles such as fascial restrictions and adhesions that interfere with optimal muscle-tendon function can be reduced and eliminated with sports massage strategies. By incorporating hands-on soft-tissue care, more benefit can be gained from the use of traditional training room modalities such as electrical stimulation, laser and exercise therapy.
To educate and sell sports massage services will involve some volunteer work to gain professional exposure to the active adult population you wish to gain as paying clients.
When you volunteer your services, never use the word free, because doing so devalues your professional services to the status of hobby rather than promoting your services as a profession. You must always place a dollar value on your volunteer work.
To maintain value, use a phrase like, “Donation of $1,000 of sports massage services to the XYZ Running Club of Ohio.” Or you might choose to place an ad, such as one that offers a customer appreciation or courtesy discount of 10 percent, in the local running club newsletter. Whatever route you choose, you must always place a dollar value on your work; otherwise, potential clients are given an inaccurate impression that any untrained person can administer sports massage.
You, the Sports Massage Therapist, are an Athlete
You must take care of yourself physically and mentally.
The experience of massage therapy in general, and sports massage specifically, needs to be one in which the clients achieve powerful results.
When you are healthy and feel invigorated, your clients will have a better experience of your massage—and the experience you give the client is the very best marketing of all.
About the Author
Benny Vaughn, A.T.C., L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., L.A.T., C.S.C.S., has been a working, licensed massage therapist for 40 years. He specializes in orthopedic clinical sports massage. Vaughn has been a member of four medical staffs serving USA Track & Field teams competing at the Olympic Games. He owns and operates Benny Vaughn Athletic Therapy Center in Fort Worth, Texas.