Case study

Graduate sports therapist — Leslie Smith

Leslie works in a musculoskeletal sports injury clinic and is also the first team sports therapist for Cambridge United Football Club. Discover his top tips for becoming a successful sports therapist

What degree did you study?

I completed a BSc (Hons) Sports Therapy degree at the University of Hertfordshire, graduating in 2019.

How did you get your job?

During my degree, I completed an 11-month industry placement, where I developed the contacts and relationships that led to me getting my jobs. Through the growing network I developed in my sandwich year, I was offered the chance to work with Cambridge United FC’s first team.

What's a typical working day like?

My week can be separated into two halves. I spend two to three days based in private practice at Fit Again Sports Therapy, treating a variety of patients from sedentary populations to runners training for GB selection. The other three days of the week are with the football club, predominantly assisting in the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injured players.

My practice shifts between two clinical locations, as well as occasionally travelling to work alongside Cambridge University sports teams. Thus far, I've supported their football, athletics, cross-country and hockey teams. The clinic has strong links to a local school, where I provide pitch-side first aid, covering rugby and hockey fixtures.

Day-to-day I manage my own caseload of players at Cambridge Utd FC while assisting in planning and implementing group warm-ups, strength and conditioning sessions and field-based drills. A typical day starts with good planning, whether that’s organising appointments with players or having programmes written in advance. It's then a balance between ensuring all the standard training preparations are in place, then shifting my focus to overseeing injured players' rehabilitation.

What do you enjoy most about being a sports therapist?

My favourite aspect of clinical practice is working within such a great variety of sports. Regardless of whether I'm based in the clinic or with the football club, no single aspect of my career is more rewarding than seeing a patient through to return to play and getting people back to the sport they love.

What are the challenges?

Particularly early on, I found shifting between two different working environments somewhat of a challenge. Inevitably there are always moments to react to in professional sport, so organisation wherever possible is a key to success, both in the clinic and within football.

I think the greatest challenge is developing your skills in patient-centred care. Each patient is a different person with their own beliefs and attitudes, and no injury is ever truly black and white.

In what way is your degree relevant?

The multitude of skills taught within my degree has been invaluable when working within a multidisciplinary team in professional football. Likewise, the clinical experience I accumulated throughout my undergraduate years has prepared me well for managing and structuring my schedule.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've become more comfortable working independently and within a team, while constantly learning along the way. My ultimate ambition is to create my own clinical practice down the line, a vision that becomes more appealing and plausible as I continue to gain experience.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this role?

  • Practical experience is key. Work alongside other professionals in sport and clinics to get an idea of what the job involves. Start to create a network of contacts as early as possible.
  • Visit The Society of Sports Therapists (SST) website for a list of accredited universities. I’m fortunate enough to have travelled to Canada on a scholarship awarded by the Society - one of many prospects that could await you as an SST Graduate Member.
  • Beyond career prospects in clinical practice and professional sport, pathways can be paved to academia and further education in areas such as strength and conditioning, and sports medicine.

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