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Become a Sports Massage Therapist

how to become a sports massage therapist

As a hugely lucrative and rewarding career, it’s no wonder so many fitness enthusiasts are wondering how to become a sports massage therapist! 

That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate step-by-step guide to working in sports massage therapy:

Before we get started, kickstart your sports massage career today by checking out our Level 3 Sports Massage Therapy course! You can also download our free course prospectus here to browse the full range of health and fitness courses that we offer at OriGym. 

Step 1- Know what the role involves

Before you even start to think about how to become a sports massage therapist, you should know exactly what the role involves so that you can be sure that it is the right career path for you.

Sports massage therapy (or SMT) is a form of physical therapy which is used to help alleviate muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, aid injury rehabilitation and prevent future injuries. 

One of the main things to know about being a sports massage therapist is that it is a very physical and hands-on role. 

As you would expect, you will spend most of your time delivering massages. If this is not something you are comfortable with, then this might not be the job for you! 

Roles and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist

If you want to become a sports massage therapist, you need to be ready to take on the following roles and responsibilities: 

  • Conducting fitness assessments with clients to determine what treatment they need
  • Testing joints for range of motion and pain 
  • Pre-event sports massages
  • Post-event sports massages
  • Proving emergency aid during a sports event
  • Create rehabilitation programs for people with injuries 
  • Liaise with coaches, trainers and other healthcare professionals 
  • Advising on diet, lifestyle and nutrition 

As well as these physical tasks, there are also some administrative tasks involved with being a sports massage therapist, such as responding to emails and managing your client bookings. This is particularly the case if you are self-employed, which we will cover in more detail later in this article. 

For more detail about what exactly the job involves, check out our article on the roles of a sports massage therapist here

Skills of a sports massage therapist

In order to meet the demands of the role, there are some key skills and personal attributes that you will need, such as:

  • Ability to work closely one-on-one with clients
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Ability to recognise and manage risk 
  • Organisation and time management skills
  • Empathy and understanding 

These skills are similar to the skills needed to be a personal trainer, but there is even more focus on being a good communicator. 

Delivering a good massage requires effective communication with your clients in order to determine exactly where their pain is. 

Empathy is also a particularly important trait to have if you want to become a sports massage therapist. For example, you may encounter clients who are feeling down about their injury, particularly if it is preventing them from doing a sport they love. It is therefore part of your role to give them a positive outlook on their recovery!

Sports massage therapist salary

If you’re wondering how to become a sports massage therapist in the UK, we know that you’ll want to know what kind of salary you can expect to earn. 

Unfortunately, there is no concrete answer to this! 

According to Payscale, the average annual sports massage therapist salary is £25,000. However, it is important to note that this is just an average! 

An SMT salary is determined by several factors, such as:

#1 How you work. Your salary will be influenced by whether you work contracted hours or on a freelance basis. 

For example, self-employed sports massage therapists typically have a higher earning potential than those employed by a company. However, those with contracted hours have a more stable income. We’ll discuss these different types of working later, and how they affect your salary, in more detail later in this article. 

#2 Location. Where you are working as a sports massage therapist can also influence your salary. 

For example, fitness professionals generally earn more in London compared to other parts of the country, simply to account for the higher cost of living there.

However, working in a big city such as London does not necessarily mean you will become a more successful sports massage therapist. Whilst your earning potential may be higher, working in a densely populated area also means that you will have more competition. 

If you are looking for a contracted SMT job, this means that there will be more of you applying for one position in a big city. For self-employed sports massage therapists, this means that you will have to do more to stand out and gain clients. 

Working in a big city or affluent area may also mean that your overhead costs are more, which will affect your take-home earnings. 

On the other hand, working in a more rural area means that you may have less competition, and your overhead costs may be less. However, this also comes with downsides such as a smaller client base, lower rates and potential extra costs such as a car if there is not good public transport in that area. 

As you can see, there are pros and cons to working in both big cities and rural areas in terms of your SMT salary. It is ultimately a matter of personal preference, and you should take the time to consider which is best for you. 

#3 Qualifications. Although there are baseline qualifications that all sports massage therapists need (which we will discuss next), gaining additional qualifications makes you more specialised, thus increasing the amount that you can charge clients. 

People will be willing to pay more for an ‘expert’ massage therapist, which ultimately means that pursuing further qualifications increases your salary. We’ll cover these extra qualifications, and how they can boost your income, in more detail later in this article. 

#4 Experience. Just like qualifications, the more experience you have, the more you can charge for your services. 

For example, imagine you are choosing between two sports massage therapists. They both have the same qualifications and the same availability, but one has just qualified, whereas the other has 2 years of experience working in a physiotherapy clinic. 

Most people would choose the person with more experience - even if they charge a little more! This is because clients want to feel like they are in safe and experienced hands, particularly because sports massage is such a specialised and intimate service. 

#5 Who you work with. Finally, the type of client you work with can affect your salary. 

For example, you will most likely earn more if you are working with a high-profile athlete than in a local fitness centre. This is simply because you would be delivering a more specialised and tailored service to an athlete. This requires a higher level of skills and experience, which you can justify charging more for! 

For more detail about how much you can expect to earn, check out our guide to sports massage therapist salary here

 

Become a Qualified Sports Massage Therapist with OriGym

Start a career in sports massage therapy today! 

Sports massage therapist hours

When wondering whether to become a sports massage therapist, you should be aware of the hours you would be expected to work. 

If you choose to work full-time, you’ll typically be working a 37 hour week. You should also be prepared to work evenings and weekends, as these are often the most popular times for clients who work during the day themselves. 

If you work for a sports team, for example, you may also be expected to join the team on away fixtures, which may take place across a whole weekend. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, we’ll outline how to become a massage therapist for a sports team later in this article!

However, working evenings and weekends isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, if you work as a freelance sports massage therapist, you can determine your own working hours to some extent, and will ultimately determine your earnings. 

Step 2- Become a qualified Level 3 sports massage therapist

Now that you know what to expect from the role, the next step is to get qualified! 

If you’re wondering how to become a qualified sports massage therapist in the UK, you will need to take a Level 3 Sports Massage Therapy qualification.

This is an entry-level course, so you don’t need any previous qualifications, education or experience to enrol onto the course. 

That said, if you are already a Level 3 personal trainer, or have even just taken your Level 2 fitness instructor qualification, you may be at a slight advantage. This is because you will have already learnt some of the content you will cover on an SMT course - which we will outline next! 

Sports massage course content 

If you take your Level 3 sports massage course with OriGym, we ensure that you qualify with both the knowledge and practical skills you’ll need to become a sports massage therapist. 

This includes:

  • Anatomy and physiology, with a focus on the skin and muscular tissue
  • How to correct posture and muscular imbalances 
  • Principles of health and exercise 
  • Principles of soft tissue dysfunction
  • Functional stretching techniques
  • Sports massage treatments 
  • How to boost sports performance 

How to choose a sports massage therapist course provider

With so many out there, it can be hard to know which course provider to go for. To help you with the process, here are some things that you should look out for: 

  • Course regulation. You should make sure that your SMT course is regulated by an Ofqual approved awarding body, such as Focus Awards or Active IQ. This regulation means that the course has met industry standards as a ‘Level 3’ course, which is an essential requirement to work as a sports massage therapist.

This is something that all sports massage therapist job vacancies will require. For example, this is a typical SMT job description:

As you can see, you need a ‘minimum of level 3 massage therapy certificate’- and this is a requirement that you will see for all SMT jobs! 

You should also ensure that your course is accredited by CIMSPA, which is the UK’s professional body for health and fitness. In other words, it is a ‘stamp of approval’ that you are taking a reliable course that meets the standards of the fitness industry. 

OriGym’s level 3 sports massage course is both CIMSPA-recognised and Ofquol regulated, so you can be sure that you are receiving the highest level of education that will be recognised when you come to finding a job. 

  • Practical assessment. If you’re wondering how to become a qualified sports massage therapist, one of the most important things is to get plenty of practical, hands-on experience. After all, the job is predominantly practical!

This is why accreditation is so important, as any reputable course provider will make sure that you get plenty of practical experience to prepare you for the role. For example, OriGym’s sports massage course includes 36 hours of practical training, all supervised by our expert tutors.

  • Study method. Check whether your sports massage course is online, blended or full-time. This is particularly important if you are taking your course alongside other commitments such as a job or university, for example. 

Here at OriGym, our SMT course is taught via blended learning, meaning that you will study the course content via our award-winning e-learning platform, at your own pace, anywhere you like. You will also have 36 hours of practical workshops to learn the practical skills of the role. 

This flexibility and combination of online and in-person learning is what makes our course so popular, as students can take control of how they learn.

Study method is also an important factor to consider when choosing a personal trainer course. Check out our guide to the best personal training courses for more detail about the pros and cons of different study methods. 

  • Location. Although some learning is done remotely, you should make sure that the practical workshops are in a location that you can get to. Most courses are run from major cities that are accessible by public transport.

  • Support during the course. An essential factor to look out for is the amount of support you receive for the online study part of your SMT course. Although you will do your online study independently, there will undoubtedly be times when you have questions or need help from your tutors. 

You should also find out through what means you will receive the support and when it is available. For example, it is no good having people available on the phones Monday-Friday, if you work during the week and study on the weekends. Not having anyone available to answer your questions when you need it can delay the time it takes you to complete your course, which can be frustrating! 

That’s why OriGym’s support team are on-hand 7 days a week, via email, chat box and phone, so you can get answers to all your questions at any time. 

  • Post-course support. As well as contact time during the course, it is just as important to receive good support after you’ve qualified. 

At OriGym, for example, we give all our students award-winning post-course support when they graduate. This includes career advice, help with your CV and mock interviews, making the process of becoming a sports massage therapist as easy as possible! 

  • Reviews. An often overlooked factor to consider when choosing a course provider is reviews from previous students. Look at neutral platforms such as Trustpilot to get an unbiased idea of their reputation. 

For example, here is an example of some reviews from OriGym on Trustpilot, where we have an average of a 4.9/5 star rating from over 1,800 reviews.  


Reviews such as these from previous students- especially on an unbiased platform such as Trustpilot, are great indications of a good course provider.

Plus, these reviews clearly show how much students value being able to get in touch with tutors and support staff throughout their course - suggesting that this is something you should look for from a course provider!

Enjoying this article so far? Here’s 3 more that we think you’ll love: 

How long does it take to become a qualified sports massage therapist?

Ultimately, this will vary by course provider. But to use OriGym as an example, our average sports massage student takes around 8 weeks to complete the course. 

There are also several other factors that can determine how long it takes you to become a sports massage therapist, such as:

  • The course provider. As we have covered, things such as the study method, support and location of your course provider can all influence how long it takes you to qualify.  

  • How hard you work. Since there is an independent study aspect to a sports massage therapy course, how long it takes you to qualify largely depends on how hard you work. 

For example, even if you complete all the practical work, if you are slow to complete the online study, this will ultimately delay the time it takes you to qualify.

  • Your previous level of sports education. As we have said, anyone can start a sports massage therapy course- you don’t need any previous education or qualifications. However, it can influence how long it takes you to complete the course. 

For example, if you have a fitness-related degree, you may already be familiar with many aspects of the course content, such as anatomy and physiology. This may mean that you can complete these parts of the course quicker. 

However, that is not to say that someone without a degree will not complete the course just as fast, if not quicker! After all, it is no good having a degree, but not putting the time and effort in.

  • Whether you pass final assessments first time. Although you can aim to complete your SMT course in a certain amount of time, it will of course take longer if you don’t pass your assessments the first time! 

For example, here at OriGym, you will have to pass the following assessments in order to qualify: 

  • Practical exam on Maintenance Message in a Clinical Environment (pass required)
  • Practical exam on Pre and Post Event Massage (pass required) 
  • Coursework and theoretical quizzes throughout the course (100% mark required)
  • Document 36 hours of practical implementation 

This may sound like a lot, but with a 95% pass rate, if you work hard and use the support of our expert tutors, you are bound to pass first time! However, even if you don’t, OriGym offer free resists, so you can try again! 

  • When you start applying for a job. We recommend starting to apply for your first sports massage job when you have booked in for your final assessment. This helps speed up the employment process, rather than waiting until you qualify to start your search. 

Plus, here at OriGym, you can use our award-winning careers support to help you find your dream role in sports massage, as well as help with your CV, cover letter and interview tips. 

These factors are the same for most fitness courses, so check out our article on how long it takes to become a personal trainer.   

Step 3- Get sports massage therapy insurance

Once you are qualified and before you start working, we highly recommend that you get insurance. This is an essential part of becoming a sports massage therapist! 

The main type of insurance you will need is public liability insurance. This covers you if someone makes a compensation claim against you in the event of an accident or injury. 

You may think that you don’t need it, particularly if you feel confident in your skills. But remember that even the most well-trained and experienced sports massage therapists can make mistakes, and often they can be out of your control.

For example, some possible accidents that could occur during sports massage therapy are:

  • Inadvertently causing injury or muscle strain during a massage treatment 
  • Client tripping over a cable or piece of equipment
  • Client suffering an allergic reaction to a product e.g. a massage oil

If you are working as a freelance sports massage therapist (which we will discuss more later in this article), then you should also consider getting cover for your equipment. This covers you in the event of your equipment being lost, damaged or stolen.

There are several places you can get sports massage therapy insurance from, such as:

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            .                            .      

Insurance is important for any fitness professional, including personal trainers. Check out our guide to personal trainer insurance for a more detailed guide to insurance in the fitness sector. 

Step 4- Choose how you want to work as a sports massage therapist

Now that you are a qualified and insured sports massage therapist, it’s time to put your skills into practice! 

Before you start applying for jobs, it is a good idea to take the time to think about which career path you want to go down as a sports massage therapist. In other words, in what kind of environment, and with what kind of clients, you want to work with. 

The choices are very similar to personal trainer career options, in that you can either be employed by a company working contracted hours, or work on a self-employed/freelance basis. Let’s break down these two options:

  • Contracted hours. This simply means that you are employed by a company or organisation, such as a sports team, gym, clinic or fitness club. 

You will work set hours each week, either full or part-time, and be paid either an hourly rate or a monthly salary.

With this option, you will typically already have a set of clients to work with, making it a popular option for newly qualified SMT coaches who haven’t yet built up their own client base. 

Many people also enjoy the regularity, structure and guaranteed income of this opinion, as well as employee benefits such as a pension and holidays. 

However, being an employee means that your salary is fixed, which can limit the potential to charge more for your services. Your earnings will typically be less than a self-employed SMT for example, since your employer will also have to take a cut of your earnings. 

  • Self-employed/freelance. This essentially means that you are not contracted or committed to one particular company. Instead, you source your own clients and determine your own hours.

The earning potential is typically higher for self-employed sports massage therapists, since you can determine your own rates. As you gain a reputation and expand your clientbase, you can start to charge more for your services, which you cannot do as a contracted employee. 

However, since you’ll essentially be running your own business, you’ll have added responsibilities. You’ll be responsible for organising your own finances, finding your own clients and marketing yourself. 

Although your earnings may be higher, you will also have to account for additional costs such as equipment, overheads, advertising and insurance. 

But despite these additional responsibilities, many people find being a self-employed sports massage therapist highly rewarding, and enjoy the greater freedom in terms of hours and the work you do. 

Check out our complete guide to how to write a sports massage business plan for more tips and advice on working in SMT self-employed.

 

Become a Qualified Sports Massage Therapist with OriGym

Start a career in sports massage therapy today! 

Step 4- Choose where you want to work as a sports massage therapist 

Once you have decided whether to go down the contracted or self-employed route, you can then start to think about where exactly you want to work.

Let’s break down some of the most common places you can work as a sports massage therapist:

Sports teams

One of the most commonly asked questions for those looking to get into SMT is, ‘how to become a sports massage therapist for a sports team?’

Both ameteur and professional sports teams will often have a dedicated sports massage therapist for their players. These are hired on both a freelance and employed basis. 

If you want to become a massage therapist for a sports team, it is a good idea to start with local, amateur teams, before progressing your way up to professional national teams. 

For example, once you are qualified, you could reach out to your local football team and gain some work experience there, as an assistant to their current SMT or by shadowing them. Gaining experience at this level will then give you practical hands-on experience in the role. This will strengthen your CV when applying for more high-level jobs, such as for a national team.

If you like the idea of working with athletes and sports teams, you may also want to consider becoming a strength and conditioning coach, since they also help athletes reach their full potential through specific training. 

Here is an example of a sports massage therapist job for a sports team:

Physiotherapy clinics

When asking the question, ‘how do I become a sports massage therapist?’, you will likely come across physiotherapy clinics as one of the most popular career routes to take. 

This is because there are many similarities between SMT and physiotherapy. Both disciplines are used to alleviate and prevent physical injury in the body. The main difference, however, is that where SMT focuses on the soft tissue, physiotherapy covers other areas such as bones, joints and the nervous system. 

Because of these similarities, many qualified sports massage therapists work in physiotherapy clinics. They will often work alongside physiotherapists, treating patients who have soft tissue injuries.

Below is an example vacancy for a sports massage therapist in a physio clinic, so you can get an idea of the kind of vacancies out there.

As you can see, this is a part-time contracted position, offering 2 to 3 shifts per week in the clinic. However, many physio clinics will also offer full-time or freelance positions. 

Health and fitness clubs/ gyms/ spas

Another popular career option for sports massage therapists is to work in health and fitness clubs, or gyms.

Many leisure clubs will have on-site sports massage therapists for their members, particularly high end clubs. 

Here is an example of a permanent vacancy for a sports massage therapist at David Lloyd:

As you can see, this role is a full-time permanent contract, but many gyms may also hire sports massage therapists on a freelance/self-employed basis too. 

Many gyms and fitness centres will allow freelance sports massage therapists to rent a room, and you can offer your services from there. With this structure, you will pay a fixed fee to the health club and keep 100% of the earnings you make from sports massage services.

Check out our list of the best gyms to work for in the UK for an idea of the gyms who are likely to hire sports massage therapists. 

Mobile sports massage therapist

An increasingly popular career path for SMT is becoming a mobile sports massage therapist. This simply means setting up your own SMT business, working on a self-employed or freelance basis with individual clients. 

The role is much like a mobile personal trainer, in that instead of you working in a gym or clinic environment, you will travel to your clients. This usually means in their home, but massages can also take place in another mutually decided location. 

If you’re wondering how to become a mobile sports massage therapist, you should be aware that it comes with many added responsibilities. For example, you will have to manage your own finances, and take into account extra costs such as owning your own equipment, having your own vehicle to travel to clients and fuel costs. 

Unlike working for a gym or clinic, you will also have to find your own clients. This requires strong marketing skills, which we will discuss next! 

It is also important to note that with all of these career options, you do not have to choose just one! 

For example, you could have a part-time contract working for a physiotherapy clinic, and also do mobile freelance work on the side. This actually gives you the best of both worlds, as you will have the stability of a contracted job, plus the freedom of freelancing!  

Step 5- Choose where you want to work as a sports massage therapist

When answering the question, ‘how do I become a sports massage therapist?’, the most obvious step to discuss is the process of finding a job once you are qualified. 

For both employed and self-employed options, general job listing websites such as Indeed and Glassdoor are a great place to start. If you are wondering how to become a sports massage therapist in the UK specifically, there are also fitness job boards such as UK Sport

There are also some websites specific to SMT which will list current vacancies, such as The Society of Sports Therapists

As with any career, networking can also be a good way to find a job. This can be done by either visiting gyms, sports teams, clinics and health clubs in-person, or online via social networks such as LinkedIn. This shows great initiative and can really help you stand out in employers’ minds. 

If you are wondering how to become a sports massage therapist for a specific sports team, then you could reach out to them and send a speculative application. This shows that you are proactive and passionate about working for them in particular.

When applying for any job, having a strong CV and cover letter is vital. This is what will help your application stand out to an employer and is a chance to really show off your skills, experience and qualifications.

Check out our guides to writing a personal trainer cover letter, and a personal trainer CV for some inspiration.

 

Step 6- Market your services and grow your business

If you are wondering how to become a sports massage therapist on a self-employed or freelance basis, this stage is particularly important!

Having a strong marketing strategy is essential if you want to attract clients as well as retain the ones you already have. 

We have a whole article full of sports massage therapy marketing ideas here, but here are just a few key marketing tips for running a successful sports massage therapist business:

  • Decide your target audience
  • Build a strong social media presence
  • Implement an email marketing strategy 
  • Create printed materials, such as business cards, to share with prospective clients 
  • Create a referral scheme and incentivise current clients to refer friends 

Step 7- Progress your career

Now that you know how to become a qualified sports massage therapist, you may now be wondering how to progress in your career. 

There are extra qualifications you can take that will complement your sports massage expertise and unlock a whole new career pathway! With more knowledge and skills, you will be able to charge more for your services, thus ultimately increasing your earnings. 

Some of the most popular ones are:

Personal Training 

If you enjoy the 1-on-1 aspects of sports massage therapy and want to expand your fitness knowledge further, you could consider going into personal training. 

If you already have your Level 2 gym instructing qualification, you will simply need to take a Level 3 personal training course to become a qualified personal trainer. 

If you have no previous qualifications, here at OriGym, we offer a Personal Training Diploma, where you can become a fully qualified Level 3 personal trainer in as little as 4 weeks! 

If you are working as a self-employed sports massage therapist, you could take these qualifications alongside your work. For example, you could take OriGym’s Personal Training Diploma part-time, giving you the chance to keep earning whilst also studying! 

Then, when you are qualified, you could work as a part-time personal trainer alongside your SMT work, which would massively increase your earning potential! For example, if one of your clients injures themselves, you can let them know that you offer sports massage. 

This can work the other way too. For example, you could mention your personal training services to your sports massage clients, saying that you can help them get back to training once they have recovered. 

Alternatively, if you choose to change career paths and pursue personal training full-time, your SMT skills will hugely benefit you. This is because if clients come to you with an injury, you will be able to use your in-depth knowledge of human anatomy to create a programme that takes their injury into consideration. 

Lower back pain management 

Once you have become a sports massage therapist, it is also a good idea to specialise in a particular area of the body. 

For example, a qualification that perfectly complements sports massage therapy is OriGym’s Level 4 specialist course in Lower Back Pain Management

It covers a slot of the core skills and knowledge you would have learnt in your sports massage course, such as anatomy and physiology, as well as equipping you with new knowledge and skills specifically related to the lower back. 

The course is delivered completely through independent online learning, so you could take this course at your own pace, alongside a part-time sports massage therapist job. 

Upon completing this course, you can then market yourself as a qualified lower back specialist. This means that you can increase your rates, since you are now delivering a specialist service.

Before you go!

So, if you were wondering, ‘how do I become a sports massage therapist?’, we hope that our step-by-step guide has answered your question!

Feeling inspired? Start your dream career today by taking a Level 3 Sports Massage Therapy course with OriGym today! You can also browse the full range of courses we offer by downloading our free course prospectus here

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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