5 Tips for Landing a Sports Medicine Job in Professional Sports

There are a lot of students that I have worked with and that read this website that ask me one recurring questions – “My dream is to work for [insert your favorite sports team here]. How do I get a job in professional sports?”

I like your dream!  I too had the dream of being the PT/ATC of the professional team in the town I grew up in, Boston.  I was also a big fan of baseball, and obviously the Red Sox.  I was lucky enough to achieve my dream, here is what I would say to help you:

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca, Roman Philosopher, 5 BC – 65 AD

1.  Determine what exactly you would call a “dream job.”.  I know when I started college, I really had no idea what my career would be like or what exactly I wanted to focus on.  I applied to some colleges as an athletic training major and others as a physical therapy major.  I often reflect and think that it is so difficult for a 16-17 year old to make a decision as to what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  I had so many classmates drop out or switch majors because they realized that physical therapy was not for them.  To be successful, you need to love what you do.

I would recommend you spend some time in your potential field in high school or early in college to see what a day-in-the-life is for people in the field you want to go into.  Many people don’t realize how challenging sports medicine is as a profession.  You need to be energetic, compassionate, patient, and love to interact with people.  People also don’t often realize what a normal work day is like.  I work 12-hour days, 7-days a week, for 9 straight months.  I am not kidding or exaggerating, check out a baseball schedule, there are no days off.  Even on our off-days we have treatments and have to prepare for upcoming games.  It is amazing that I have a supportive family.  As a physical therapist in a clinic, you are performing a service and your fate is determined by your patients.  If they come late, you miss lunch.

2.  Associate yourself with the best.  My next tip may be one of the most important.  You need to seek out the best people in your field and learn, work, and grow with them.  With hard work, time, and a lot of effort you will become one of them.  That is what I did, I searched out the best sports medicine people in baseball and discovered Dr. Andrews and ASMI in Birmingham, AL.  Over the course of almost 8 years, I progressed from a student research position, then did a year long sports medicine fellowship, 5 years later I was the Director of Rehabilitation.  I put myself in a position where I was desirable to baseball teams.

This also goes for networking.  Unfortunately, it is all about politics and who you know.  The more you can network and join associations or attend conferences with people that are in a position that you want to be in one day, the better.  Look for mentors, look for friends, and look for opportunities.

3.  Work your way up.  It is near impossible to reach the level of professional sports without spending time in the trenches.  High school and collegiate athletics is a step in the right direction.  Internships are very popular in professional sports and essential to getting your foot in the door.  Seek out the professional sports medicine association of the sport you are interested in (we are PBATS in baseball, not sure about other sports) and look into doing an internship or volunteering, even if it is just for training camp.  Nothing beats experience, so the more specific your experience can be the better.

4. Set yourself apart from your peers.  This one is important and difficult.  I was lucky and figured out what I wanted to do with my career early on in college.  When I was taking my neurological and pediatrics classes, I would spend my book money on buying new orthopedic and sports medicine books and just obtain my neuro and pedi required reading from the library.  OK, so this may not be good advice, but it shows and example of how I used my time and energy to set myself apart.  I read everything I could on my topic of interest, baseball sports medicine.

The easiest way to set yourself apart from your peers early on is to show an extreme desire to learn and achieve.  I really do feel that hard work will beat out intelligence every time when the race is close.  As your career advances, try to set yourself apart.  How can you do this?  Maybe conduct some research, submit manuscripts to journals and newsletters, take charge and organize journal club, work extra hours, take on extra projects, and volunteer your time.  Remember, this isn’t going to be easy, if you want a top level job, there will be sacrifices.

5.  Be patient.  I don’t think there are many new grads working in professional sports, probably wont be any time soon either.  Use the above thoughts to make yourself standout from the crowd.  Using baseball as an example, you are trying to get a job with only 30 positions in the entire world.   For my dream job, there was only one position.  I am lucky to say that I obtained my dream job and I am grateful for this. Realize that it will take a little luck and timing, make sure you do everything you can do to be sure you are ready when an opportunity presents itself.

Good luck and best wishes!

Photos by Kaibara87 and exquisitur

10 replies
  1. Top Sports Star
    Top Sports Star says:

    When a player suddenly faints and falls while playing, there are a few people that try to revive him or put him on a stretcher and take him off the field. This job is little known by spectators. Among the group could be a doctor, a fitness instructor, or an orthopedist. All are branches of the same stream of medicine, known as sports medicine.

  2. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I love your suggestions. I have a brother in law who has been searching for his dream job in sports for years. I will be sure to pass on the advice. I found a book that is really inspiring as well. It’s called The Job Coach for Young Professionals. At first I wasn’t sure about the goal setting piece. Now I see that it is the first thing everyone should do when they are looking for a job.

  3. Nick Pontifex
    Nick Pontifex says:

    Another great post mike. Is there a high turnover rate with PT’s in the profession or do they usually hang around for several years? Also, what is the percentage of PT’s who also are ATC’s? Apart from the ASMI sports med fellowship, are the any others that you hear good things about or would recommend?
    Thanks again,

    Nick

  4. Chad Ballard, PT
    Chad Ballard, PT says:

    Good info Mike… so when are you going to set up the Mike Reinold fantasy day camp for those of us that dreamed of having your job??? You could make some money on that one (I’d sign up)to show the behind the scenes day of the Sox PT. I planned to be there last night (Oakland) but missed the chance to heckle you from the stands.

  5. Christie Downing, PT, DPT, cert. MDT.
    Christie Downing, PT, DPT, cert. MDT. says:

    Mike,

    Good post, I often receive messages from potential PT students who ask me this question. I think a good majority of PT students have this aspiration at one time or another, but very few consider the hard work it really takes to acheive this. I think the vast majority think that simply going to a “good PT school” and obtaining their licensure is adequate.

    You made a very good key point: You have to set yourself apart from others. I imagine that these positions are some of, if not THEE, most competitive in the industry.

    Point, being: be prepared to go through a lot. Consider a PhD, or the opportunities you mention…and of course, networking is a key. Students don’t realize that getting a job in the professional sports setting is not done by posting your resume on “hotjobs.com.”

    Thanks for the post, I may refer students to your advice.

  6. Hillary Bucklin
    Hillary Bucklin says:

    Hi Mike,

    I’m not sure if you remember me, but I was an AT co-op student at Harvard Univ. last spring and loved your shoulder talk that you gave us!

    Any tips for female student AT’s looking to get into professional or semi-pro sports? I know at least for students at Northeastern, there is a Co-op opportunity with the Patriots that is apparently impossible to get as a female. I know theoretically there shouldn’t be any, but from your point of view, what other considerations are there as a female in the business?

    Thanks,
    Hillary Bucklin
    Athletic Training 2010
    Northeastern University.

  7. UofMWolverine81
    UofMWolverine81 says:

    I definitely think that having high school kids or early college kids experience “a day in the life” is an excellent point. It’s amazing how what may be perceived as a “dream” job can suddenly turn into anything but when you encounter factors you hadn’t considered that may not be as desirable to you.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] article is an adaptation from Landing a Sports Medicine Job in Professional Sports by Mike […]

  2. […] of Mr. Reinold’s career tips to landing those dream jobs in sports — check out all five here on his informative […]

Comments are closed.