The 16 keys to success working in elite sport

Firstly, thanks to the SportsMap for asking me to wrote this blog. I hope as least a couple of you out there can take a thing or two from it!

I first enrolled in Physiotherapy with the aim of working in elite sport. Thankfully, due to a combination of having clear goals, working hard and a fair bit of luck, I have managed to work full time in professional sport since 2010. I am often asked by other Physios about how to get a foot in the door in this area. The reality is that with more students enrolling in Physiotherapy courses than ever before, the competition for jobs is only going to get worse. I by no means have all the answers, but these are a few tips that might help you get an opportunity, and then hopefully allow you to make it a success.

I love working in elite sport. However, it can involve long hours, pressure situations, weekend work, dealing with an array of personalities, constant turnover of staff (including perhaps yourself), public criticism, politics and more. In my view all these potentially negatives are far outweighed by the positives, but prior to embarking on this path make sure you understand all that it involves.

HERE ARE MY 16 KEY’s BE SUCCESSFUL WORKING IN ELITE SPORT:

  1. You need to immerse yourself in the job and be always evolving. In this age of social media there is no excuse for not keeping abreast of the latest in sports science and medicine. From the time you begin university start to attend conferences and courses, & use social media to follow prominent people, journals and other resources that will add to your knowledge.
  2. Attempt to get experience working in sport as early as possible. I do not agree with the theory that one should work in a hospital first to ‘round out’ their education. Working in a hospital and sport are miles apart. Attempt to get work in a private practice, with good mentors that will take time to educate you and also have links to sporting clubs or organizations.
  3. Do not be afraid to network. Be prepared to write emails and call people that you think may be able to give you an opportunity. Showing a willingness to learn and work hard is important early in your career.
  4. The well known book ‘legacy’ states that ‘better people makes better all blacks.’ The same thing could easily be applied to Physio’s. If I am looking to hire someone, it is the impression I get of them as a character that counts for the most.
  5. Be familiar with the load requirements of the sport, and ensure when rehabilitating a player that you have them prepared to meet these demands.
  6. Coaches, players and other staff will often ask why you have a certain opinion, or how you came to a particular decision. Be able to justify how you go about things.
  7. Do not be a know it all. The best Physio’s I have come across are humble, always learning and realize that they do not have all the answers. Be prepared to listen, evolve, seek assistance and do not be offended when someone else challenges your view points.
  8. Being ‘just’ a physio is not enough. You should have at least a moderate understanding of other areas such as strength and conditioning & nutrition. This will help you be a better Physio and should allow you to build better relationships with staff in these areas… As long as you don’t tell them how to do their job!
  9. Each player is different. Work closely with other relevant staff such as the doctor and S & C to provide players with an individual physical preparation program that aims to maximize performance and reduce the risk of injury.
  10. When a player is injured focus on what they CAN do, as opposed to what they can’t. Be creative and always work around the injury. Use the rehab time as an opportunity to not only address the specific injury, but also to work in conjunction with the S & C staff to improve the overall physical characteristics of the athlete.
  11. Plan well and have key objective markers from early rehab all the way up until clearing a player to return to competition.
  12. Have a plan, but also be flexible and ready to adapt and deal with challenges and obstacles along the way.
  13. Ensure the athlete receives the same message from all support staff. Don’t be the guy that undermines the rest of the group and tells the player that you would be approaching things differently or that your colleague is wrong. Debate amongst staff is healthy, but this needs to be done in the correct manner.
  14. Be organized, document well and prioritize things that you think will best impact performance.
  15. Enjoy your job. Bring positivity to the group and don’t take yourself too seriously. Maintain high standards and keep professional relationships with players but don’t be afraid to have a laugh when the time is right.
  16. Maintain a healthy work / life balance. Work hard but also put aside time to relax and pursue interests away from the job. This will help you be more productive when at work and also minimize the risk of burn out.


Steve is the Davis Cup and National Physiotherapist at Tennis Australia has recently moved from his post at Head Physiotherapist for the Sri Lanka National Cricket team. Steve has also worked with the North Melbourne Football (AFL) and was a post graduate scholar with the AIS. Steve recently presented for The Sports MAP Network at the Perth Prevention vs. Performance Conference with Tim Gabbett, Jarrod Wade and Mark Finucane.

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