How to get a job in sports therapy

Sports therapists are key figures in getting both pros and amateurs back in the game
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The Independent Online

This summer, a tiny bone in the foot once again became more famous than most film stars and pretty much all politicians. It was, of course, Wayne Rooney's fifth metatarsal.

England fans have been made well aware of the injury curse over the past two World Cups, and footballers know only too well that a bad injury is the one thing that can cause them to lose it all overnight.

Sports therapists help these high-earning professionals (and those of us who do sport for fun) to keep safe from injury by assessing potential risks, advising on how to avoid injury, and helping to treat and rehabilitate players when they are injured. This involves a broad knowledge base, including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition and sports psychology.

Earnings for sports therapists range from £17,000 to £35,000. Many work in private clinics, treating the weekend warriors and recreational-sports fanatics who sometimes take things too far. Others work for the increasing number of professional teams that use sports therapists.

Alan Stewart, the director of the Society of Sports Therapists, says that sports therapists play a major part in most sports these days. They also work on television programmes such as Sky's The Match, in which celebrities were pitted against former football stars. "Sports therapists worked on that show," Stewart says.

Stewart was working as a PE teacher when he decided to take up sports therapy. "I've always had an interest in sport," he says.

The discipline completely changes the way you see the game, Stewart says. "When you watch sport, you don't look at goals; you look at good technique and bad technique, and the mechanisms of injury. You're more analytical and critical."

The profession is not regulated at the moment, so anyone can call themselves a sports therapist. The Society of Sports Therapists, together with the Health Professions Council, is looking into this. If you want to be legitimate, look for a Society of Sports Therapists-accredited course. There are diplomas, HNDs, foundation degrees, degrees and postgraduate qualifications available in sports therapy.

Many professionals believe that a sports therapy degree is the best way in. It combines medical courses such as anatomy (what is where) and physiology (why what does what), with more sport-related courses in training and professional development, with a strong focus on assessing injuries and potential weaknesses and on various types of rehabilitation, including massage, manual therapy, and electrotherapy.

Sarah Kelley, a second-year sports-therapy student at London Metropolitan University, did biology, chemistry and maths at A-level. Sports therapy offered her a chance to combine an interest in medicine and a love of sports (she swims and plays hockey for the university).

Kelley's favourite course is anatomy, and particularly the dissections she gets to do at King's College London. Watching sport for her is now a rather ghoulish affair: she relates play to the anatomy that she has learnt from studying human cadavers. "When I see sport now, I think about all those different muscles moving," she says.

When she graduates next year, Kelley wants to work with a professional sports team. It's easy to see why; sports therapists working with professionals play an increasingly important role in training Britain's athletes.

Damien Doyle is one of them. As a sports therapist with the football club Milton Keynes Dons, he oversees the many areas of players' lives that could increase their chance of injury, from nutrition to fitness. He works with players on rehabilitation when they are injured, but most of his work centres on what he calls "prehabilitation" - preventing rather than curing injury by assessing possible weaknesses and advising on how to stop them developing. "We're very involved in training," he says. "And the feedback we get from players is always good." At the Dons, his techniques have helped to bring about a steady decrease in injury rates and no real recurrence of injury. "That reflects in the results," he says.

Doyle trained as a sports therapist after a knee injury wrecked his chances of a professional football career. After an operation, his sports therapist cut his surgeon's rehabilitation estimates in half. He was running within a year, and playing recreational football within two years.

"Obviously, I was well impressed," he says. "I decided it was something I was interested in." After graduating, Doyle worked as a personal fitness trainer before the ideas he had brought into Cambridge City football club started to be noticed by other teams. Since then, he has worked for Queen's Park Rangers, Crystal Palace, Barnet and Brentford.

"As a sports therapist, you get a great idea of what's involved in the life of a sportsperson," Doyle says. "And it's constantly challenging to keep up with the new literature and to implement those ideas."

For more information, go to the Society of Sports Therapists website at: www.society-of-sports-therapists.org/

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