Today’s sports massage therapists are held to a standard higher than ever before.
They no longer provide just pre- and post-event massage; they are often called onto the field to perform manual therapy at a moment’s notice.
Richard Lomeli, CMT, serves as a corrective therapy consultant to trainers and athletes around the world. He is a sports therapist whose primary clientele consists of professional athletes who perform at the highest levels of competition.
He has worked with athletes including Super Bowl Champions, CrossFit athletes, hockey players, triathletes, MotoGP and World Superbike competitors and others.
In 2015 he co-founded Function Forward Advanced Therapeutics, designing and lecturing on Soft Tissue Corrective Therapy curriculums, and developing the American Soft Tissue Corrective Therapy method, which is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.
Here, Lomeli describes what it takes to succeed the competitive world of high-stakes sports massage therapy.
Q: When and how did you decide sports therapy was the right career for you?
A: I just knew I wanted to work with athletes before I enrolled in a massage program. There was never any doubt as to the clientele I wanted to work with before setting foot in a classroom.
Q: What is the best way to learn sports therapy?
A: Get trained, preferably by someone who has had recent or current experience working in the field you’re trying to break into. I cannot convey this enough.
See if the educator has any recent—at least within the last two to four years—experience working in pro sports or has a clientele of professional- or elite-level athletes. If they do, they won’t have any issues sharing their experiences with you.
[Also], study functional movement in as many sports as you can. Ask local athletic programs if you can come in to shadow, or just go to baseball, football, soccer or softball games at your local park. See how each player in his or her respected position moves. Think about not only the primary movers of the actions you are watching, but also what can inhibit that movement.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports therapist?
A: Developing trust and a reputation among professional athletes as someone they can go to when in need of recovery or performance enhancement. It’s a truly humbling honor when a marquee player can see anyone in the world but they come to you. Plus, there’s nothing better than watching your clients go off and win a world championship.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work with a professional sports team as a massage therapist?
A: Develop your craft and gain some experience. Treating soft tissue injuries or identifying performance inhibitors doesn’t get easier—you just get better at it. Get your hands on as many athletes as possible. In any serious interview with a pro team, you will likely be asked as to how many athletes you have worked with, so are you going to say “one or two” or “100 or 200”?
Q: Describe a time when things weren’t going well in your business and what you did to turn it around.
A: Immediately after graduating from basic massage school in November 2010, I knew what market I wanted to engage and that I had to get further training. It didn’t take long to get the wind knocked out of me by acknowledging where my skill actually was in contrast to those working in my chosen market. I put a ton of pressure on myself to advance immediately and become a player in my chosen market.
Q: If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently starting out?
A: Absolutely nothing—the greatest thing in life is the contrast. My disappointments resulted in my going throttle-up, and I can’t complain about that. We become who we are because of all experiences in life.
Many therapists and colleagues probably see the arrows I put in the bullseye, but pay little to no attention to the many more I missed and put into the trees and bushes. The trick is keep firing, believe in yourself, and never give up.
Editor’s note: Richard Lomeli wrote “A Higher Bar for Sports Massage: Targeted Soft-Tissue Work for Athletes,” for MASSAGE Magazine’s August 2017 issue
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