Beth Fisher (left) and a colleague provide massage at a sports event.

Professional athletic teams use massage — and so do weekend warriors and dedicated nonprofessional athletes.

These fitness enthusiasts all need a tailored massage for their sport. Are you that therapist?

Go to the park on a Saturday and notice joggers glancing at their smart watches for stat; visit a gym and you’ll see people in bootcamps pushing their limits; drive or walk along any roadway and there are cyclists claiming their piece of the asphalt; and listen to the whistles being blown at the soccer game in the distance. People are blowing off their 9-to-5 steam in sport activities — and it feels good, until it doesn’t.

What does this mean to massage therapists? It creates more opportunities for massage therapists to specialize in sports massage.

Professional & Nonprofessional Athletes

Traditionally, sports massage has been focused on professional athletes. Clients would book appointments for sessions pre- and post-event and during their training seasons. Sports massage was competitive and it was difficult to get hired by a team, leaving many massage therapists out of the game.

Today’s sports massage has a different look altogether. Clients are everyday folks who sign up for triathlons, Ironman competitions, and weekend 5K runs and cycling events. Local events like annual Turkey Trots draw thousands of everyday people out of their homes and into the streets for a run.

These are the people you should market to and get onto your table for a sports massage.

Professional and semi-professional athletes are still a target clientele for sports massage therapists, but with this new growing audience there is now more room to build specialization and gain experience with novices before moving into the big leagues.

Beth Fisher (left) and a colleague provide massage at a sports event.

Local Athletic Events

You’ve probably seen the tent with massage tables and chairs at weekend running or cycling events. It’s there that Beth Fisher RN, LMT, feels right at home.

“I enjoy working at several athletic events each year – it’s always an interesting and uplifting experience,” Fisher said. Her background in exercise physiology and nursing prompted her to approach her clients’ pain differently. She found herself integrating stretching techniques early on and eventually branched out in sports massage.

“Charity sporting events are a good way to get started in the field,” she said. “Most charity events welcome volunteer massage therapists and teams, but massage therapists should contact the organizers months in advance because it can take time to get approval.

Fisher also developed the Massage Team Techniques CE course to teach massage therapists a routine for cyclists after years of working cycling events.

James Waslaski LMT, author and international educator of Integrated Manual Therapy & Orthopedic Massage, also got his start at events.

“I volunteered at about 30 sporting events per year in my first year as a massage therapist, and my entire practice was working with athletes. As a serious marathon runner myself, this was a perfect fit,” sid Waslaski, who is all a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star.(Read “The Massage Magazine Interview: James Waslaski.”)

Planning goes a long way at these events. Once you know the sport you will be working on, plan a 10- to 15-minute routine that flows from one movement to the next, Fisher suggested, and use different techniques and address major areas of stress for that athlete.

The benefits of doing massage at an athletic event including building regular clientele; networking with people involved in athletics, such as coaches or trainers, and an augmented resume.

Local Gyms

Waslaski got his start in sports massage when his time volunteering at athletic events opened the door for him to work at the YMCA. His forward momentum continued and he soon found himself working with track and field athletes at the University of South Florida. A referral from that college setting landed him in the 1996 Olympic Games.

“Volunteering initially at your local gym or high school or college and getting involved with your state or national massage organizations, is an incredible way to network, touch a lot of bodies and meet key people [who can] open doors to work with athletes,” Waslaski said.

Local gyms are a hub for sports massage therapists; specifically, those who have a targeted clientele for Crossfit, weightlifting or personal training programs. Most gyms have an area already set up with a massage table.

Waslaski took his specialty in sports massage further by becoming certified as a personal trainer. He says this additional training and certification allowed him to teach clients corrective exercises for injury prevention and performance enhancement.

“It sets you apart from many of the other sports massage therapists and opens doors to work with serious athletes,” he said.

Colleges and High Schools

Even if you think you want to work with high-caliber professional athletes, you can start by working with athletes in colleges and high schools. These are, after all, breeding grounds for professionals and offer an opportunity to budding sports massage therapists to build expertise in a chosen sport while working with disciplined clients.

There is immense opportunity to build your sports massage expertise and work with athletes at the same time in college and high school settings. Approximately 8 million high school students participate in athletics every year and there are nearly half a million athletes in college level sports, according to the NCAA, National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Take it from Tracy Alan Jones, LMT. who spent seven seasons helping the University of Notre Dame Track & Field Team to three Big East Conferences.

“I like the challenge of working with athletes that have diverse performance needs,” said Jones, who has a familiarity with the sport from his own high school track and field days.

Tracy Alan Jones's face, smiling.
Tracy Alan Jones

Jones continues to serve athletes at his practice, Tampa Bay Sports & Medical Massage in Tampa, Florida, specializing in golfers as well as track and field athletes. He has some words of wisdom for massage therapists seeking to build an athlete clientele in the sports massage field:

• Start with amateurs and work your way up to gain confidence. “If the team you’re approaching are savvy consumers, they won’t want someone who is inexperienced.”

• Get trained in the individual sport. “I think it is important to get trained in individual sports simply because you need to learn the language,” said Jones. “All these different sports have different skill sets and different demands on their body and as sports massage therapists we need to understand all of those.”

• Don’t quit before the miracle happens. After years of networking and giving talks all over town to whoever would listen, Jones received a call from the coach of the Notre Dame track and field team with a request to come to their evening track meet. That blossomed into a seven-year relationship.

Marketing Your Sports Massage

Sports massage is a specialty, and all the additional training and volunteer hours you do in the field to gain experience will set you apart. Your expertise in a sport and the relationships you build in that community are your best marketing tools.

“Align with PTs, athletic trainers, chiropractors and other great manual therapists, and be a team player,” Waslaski said. Keep up with current research and when you do land a position with the pros, stay positive and humble, he added.

Many sports massage therapists build their practice based on referrals. A client who gets relief in a session with you will tell their friends about it at the gym or next athletic event. You will soon have your schedule filling up and if you still have your sights on working with a pro athlete keep networking and putting your name out there. Networking is key, said Jones.

10 massage therapists stand while working on clients lying on massage tables, in the white recovery tent on a lawn.

Networking is an important aspect of marketing yourself in sports massage and getting in with the gatekeepers of teams, athletic events, gyms and athletes, said Jones. “Have a lot of lunches — [because] most teams are not going to advertise they are looking for a massage therapist.”

Sports massage is an exciting field that takes massage therapists out of the treatment room and into more social environments like outdoor events and gyms. It can take you into professional sports arenas and stadiums and can also give you the hands-on experience to treat the fitness enthusiast clientele. It also brings depth to a therapist’s education and understanding of the human body.

Be bold about what you want and get the experience you need to take your practice to the next level. Approach your sports massage business like an athlete approaches their sport: determined, focused and with consistency.

Once you have a strong foundation, have taken the necessary training and have worked on a lot of bodies, approach your next potential employer with confidence.

About the Author: 

Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 17 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for massagemag.com include “Advanced Massage Training Will Take Your Career to the Next Level — Just Ask These Massage Therapists” and “The Massage Therapist’s Guide to Assisted Stretching Techniques.”

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