An excerpt from a book chapter that didn't get written. "How to get into professional sports"
Let me frame some key messages that took me forward and may help you in our profession. It’s been said that in an audience, over 70% of attendees aren’t able to recount the key message. Further, 50% of presenters aren’t able to summarise their key message. Further, 86.7% of statistics are made up on the spot! Thus, permit me to summarise key messages promptly so we can be in the top percentiles of those who can summarise and recount key messages:
1. You’ll need to play a strategic card at the recruitment stage – be job-description aware and results focussed.
In an industry that seemingly values maintenance of, or improvement in specific results, it is sadly obvious that physiotherapists are not recruited with a verbalized focus on results. For example, “we’d love it if you could work to improve athletic success, efficiency and safety.” Those three are the areas that count:
· Athletic success speaks of capacity (strength, strength endurance, power and power endurance). Being able to demonstrate that your work moves an athlete forward in capacity demonstrates their investment in you to support the availability of the athlete to execute the sporting techniques, tactics required for success.
· Athletic efficiency speaks of movement competency (mobility and motor control) that underpins capacity. Efficiency also speaks about the use of time and resources to achieve athletic success. Organisations respect reduced costs and reduced use of resources to achieve outcomes. Being able to demonstrate this is a sign that your role is an investment, rather than an expense.
· Athletic safety goes to identifying risks of injury and their recurrence, limiting injury severity and thus maintaining availability for efficient success.You might be wondering why I even raise the possibility that an organisation should baulk at asking you to focus on getting results. wanting continued improvement. Without a hint of cynicism, I tell you that change is the enemy of security. If you aspire to do a great job, filled with improvement in those three areas, you may be in for a rude shock when you move into professional sports. I know, who would have thought? The people around you and above you may genuinely block you from working towards those same visions and missions as it may do them out of a job.
I found one organisation who was results focused – EXOS. I’ve worked for them intermittently since 2014 in various missions across multiple sports. I’ve also worked for sports organisations who had a results-focus but lost it to a bureaucratic shift – an Institute of Sport in Australia. I’ve also worked for two seemingly similar organisations – Australian and British Defence Forces who had quite different focuses. The British Forces in Germany were in training and rotation for tours in the Iraq so deployable soldiers were a premium – successfully competent and capacious soldiers, treated and rehabilitated efficiently to ensure they were safe enough to train for the mission. The Australian Defence Forces were not actively engaged in tours at the time (except for Special Forces) and the preparation of soldiers was reflective of a strategic focus on results but a practical focus on not doing anything different to improve results.
To get into the short list for a professional sports job, you will have to check the box of having the pre-requisites - the degree and registration and minimum experience. You’ll probably have to meet more specific pre-requisites or desirables. Sports specific experience, for example. Or specific training in some assessment or treatment/rehabilitation methodologies. As well as checking those boxes, for your genuine satisfaction, and meaningful contribution, you should hold a focus of “working measurably closer to success, efficiency and safety as a result of you being in the job”. That phrase by itself can emotionally connect with a recruiter or manager, demonstrating how you already have a script for critical moves in your job and are shaping a path to doing a great job. For more on scripting critical moves, shaping a path and emotionally connecting to effect change, I encourage you to read “Switch – How to change things when change is hard”, by Chip and Dan Heath.
Find out something about the person above you, or above them. If they have any publicly available record of working towards one or more of those three things, pitch your application to that - the emotional connection of you being on a similar mission will create an instant bond. Be careful, if your superior in the position has no publicly available record of achieving in those three areas, then if YOU pitch those benefits, you’ll be creating an INSTANT discomfort for the supervisor or manager, and that’s a recipe for NOT getting the job.
In early 2014, a colleague told me EXOS would be interested in someone with my background. I reached out and they got straight back to me. My connection related to experience in sports and many years’ experience using the Functional Movement Systems to screen and assess athletes – a core part of their methodology. In 2015, after a contract with EXOS was completed, I returned to an institute of sport in Australia – within six months, they stated a deliberate intention to NOT use or teach the Functional Movement Screen because “it didn’t work”, “there was no standard of movement” and “no one could be as good at it as me so there was no point teaching anyone to use it.”
In late 2015, a professional sport team knew I was an instructor for Functional Movement Systems and experienced in EXOS methodology and had been part of the World Cup winning Chinese Women’s Volleyball Team. They had been working on their own screening battery and didn’t want to change it. Like I said, your intent when dealing with supervisors could create such discomfort that you aren’t recruited or you have to make a decision to remain or leave. A year later, the same team overlooked me for a rehabilitation physiotherapist position because I “was too experienced and too senior.” Perhaps a polite way of saying that they valued a lower ranked person who could be moulded in their image over a physiotherapist with a record of getting results in tough athletic environments. Getting into professional sports is a challenge.
If your future supervisor is an unknown with respect to their intent on success, effcency and safety, and if you still want the role, rely on you meeting pre requisites and getting an interview. When you’re asked if you have any questions, ask them if you could measure outcomes that relate to success, efficiency and safety if you’re successful in getting the job. This type of question bypasses a lower level question about whether they consider these things important. If they hadn’t thought of it, you’ll make an impression. If they don’t consider it important, you’ll find out quickly and can make a decision about whether you want to simply be in “a job” instead of “a mission”. There’s no shame in filling a position that is not a mission - we all have to earn an income, get experience and pack a resume for future opportunities. It usually won’t be your own best way of demonstrating that you can work towards measurable outcomes of success or efficiency, but it might be safe for you.
Know this, you can keep your own records on your clients meeting milestones, criteria of competency and capacity and return to sport criteria. You can even track metrics of your own that relate to return to play timings, recurrence rate, return to baseline metrics, number of treatment and training sessions or hours required to get there. These can form honest appraisals of how you are applying objective systems and clinically-reasoned treatment/rehabilitation methodologies and critically-thought training methodologies. You can use them for professional reflection and upskilling for future positions.
Everything that is unexpected creates an opportunity. By supporting results-focused organisations like EXOS and the British Defence Forces, and observing other organisations with different strategies, only then can perspective be gained, and performance bandwidths be understood. A performance bandwidth is a tolerance for variation in outcomes, borne from the motor control and movement learning research world. Each sporting circumstance you meet helps to shape your tolerances. Each tolerance point is population specific, task specific and guided by safety research. When you aspire to change behaviour of your clients towards athletic success, athletic efficiency and athletic safety, you are forced to study and expand your understanding of different sporting populations, tasks and risk factors for injury. What a great opportunity to have to respond and adapt to!