How to become a sports massage therapist (step-by-step)

With sports participation at an all-time high, the demand for sports massage therapists is increasing. So, it’s no wonder many individuals are looking into this relatively new and exciting career path.

The only issue is, many people aren’t aware of how to become a sports massage therapist—as it’s quite a niche area of the health and fitness industry.

Here you’ll find everything you need to become a sports massage therapist, from understanding the role to marketing yourself once you’re qualified.

Table of contents:

  1. Understand the role
  2. Understand the skills you need
  3. Become a qualified sports massage therapist
  4. Choose your career path
  5. Consider sports massage insurance
  6. Expand your network and market your services


1. Understand the role 

sports massage therapist skills

This is an essential first step for anyone unaware of the roles and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist. Knowing the job inside out before committing to a course, or even a three-year degree, can save you heaps of time and energy.

So, what is expected of you once you become a sports massage therapist?

Many factors determine this, such as:

  • your qualifications
  • your specialisms
  • the setting you work in
  • the clients you work with

However, we can give an overview of the role by defining sports massage therapy (SMT) as a form of physical therapy that alleviates pain sustained through strenuous physical activity or a demanding lifestyle. 

It’s a practical and hands-on role and involves spending much of the working day administering massages to clients.

To give further insight, here’s an example of an SMT job description taken from Indeed:

become a sports massage therapist image

In this instance, the job role is straightforward and aligns with everything we’ve just covered.

This will usually be the case if you’re working in-house at a sports massage clinic or health club, but you may sometimes be expected to possess other skills. One example is Indian head massage, which seems to be cropping up in many online job descriptions due to its rising popularity.

If you’re planning on opening your own clinic, this is a good thing to keep in mind—if you specialise in certain forms of massage, you’ll stand out to potential clients.

Related: Sports massage therapist job description


2. Understand the skills you need 

Following our previous point, knowing the skills you need to become a sports massage therapist is a good idea.

This is solely for your benefit. Most people want a career that brings out their strengths, and if you don’t enjoy working with the public, for example, you won’t enjoy sports massage therapy.

So, aside from qualifications, here are the basic skills you need to become a sports massage therapist:

  • people-oriented—you’ll need to enjoy working with and helping clients one-to-one
  • communicative skills—you’ll need to explain treatments in a way clients will understand
  • empathy—you’ll need to demonstrate patience and understanding to clients
  • professionalism—you’ll need to conduct massages in a professional and sensitive manner

These qualities are essential if you hope to become a successful sports massage therapist. You’ll need to be respectful of your clients and genuinely passionate about helping them recover from any pain or injury.  


3. Become a qualified sports massage therapist 

choose your sports massage therapist career path
Portrait of a confident young physiotherapist standing in her office

There are two ways you can become qualified in sports massage therapy: the academic or the vocational route. 

If getting qualified up to degree level is important to you, you may want to obtain a BSc in Sports Therapy before completing an SMT course post-graduation.

Completing an accredited sports therapy degree isn’t necessary for becoming a sports massage therapist. Still, it does mean you could diversify your role further down the line and potentially have more career options.

However, if sports massage therapy is the area you wish to specialise in, there’s no need to undertake a three-year degree.

You can complete a Level 3 Sports Massage Therapy course and be qualified in as little as 10 weeks.

It’s always a good idea to ensure your chosen course is accredited by a relevant awarding body, such as CIMSPA or VTCT.

Top-rated accredited course providers in the UK include:

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can study up to Level 4 and Level 5, but it’s not necessary for a successful career in this field.

Related: The pros and cons of being a personal trainer


4. Choose your career path 

qualified sports massage therapist working in a gym

One of the most confusing aspects of learning how to become a sports massage therapist is understanding the different settings available to you.

To keep things simple, the main pathways are:

  • working with sports teams
  • working for a physiotherapy clinic
  • working for a health club/gym
  • becoming a mobile SMT
  • setting up your own SMT clinic

It’s a good idea to examine whether working full-time, part-time, or freelance is best for you. Or, whether you feel ready to establish your own sports massage therapy business, be it mobile or based within a clinic.

Typically, newly qualified sports massage therapists find that picking up some experience in their first year or two before branching out independently is a good start.

There are many pros and cons to working for yourself vs working for someone else, but experience is key if you want to hit the ground running when you set up your own business.


5. Consider sports massage insurance

get insurance when you become a sports massage therapist

Many employers require you to have sports massage therapy insurance, particularly Public Liability insurance.

This protects your legal liability if a claim is made against you for injury to another person or property damage.

Even the most experienced sports massage therapists can make mistakes, and the last thing you want to do is leave yourself unprotected in this situation.

If you’re setting up your own sports massage therapy clinic or working freelance, you may also want to cover your equipment, especially since things like massage tables are expensive to replace.

Related: Create your sports massage business plan


6. Expand your network and market your services

how to become a sports massage therapist - marketing

This is especially important if you’re setting up your own sports massage business, be it working as a freelancer or opening your own clinic.

If you’re in this situation, it’s up to you to source new clients and boost your salary.

While word-of-mouth referrals are valuable, it’s unlikely they’ll provide you with a consistent stream of clients within a short time. But networking and marketing are the most effective ways of filling the gaps.

Networking involves actively connecting with other professionals and making yourself known, potentially leading to a mutually beneficial referral process where you promote each other’s services.

LinkedIn or any networking or business events in your local area are great ways of doing this.   

Marketing involves a more direct approach and is about gaining potential clients’ attention and increasing their desire for your services.

Here are some quick tips for marketing your sports massage business:

  • establish your target market
  • build a social media presence
  • create and distribute business cards to potential clients
  • approach local businesses and ask to display leaflets on their premises
  • begin a referral process to encourage clients to refer their friends
  • create a website, and optimise it around keywords relevant to your local area (e.g., ‘sports massage therapist Milton Keynes’)

Always research your competitors before creating your marketing plan, and make sure you define your unique selling point. This is a foolproof way to see your client base skyrocket.


Specialist sports massage insurance with Insure4Sport

Becoming a sports massage therapist presents risks, but you can reduce their impact by protecting yourself with specialist sports massage insurance.

At Insure4Sport, we arrange up to £10m of Public Liability and £1m Professional Indemnity cover, which protects you from any claims made following advice you’ve given to a client regarding their injuries.

Click the banner below to get an instant online quote today.

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