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Sports focus takes massage therapy to new heights

For some massage therapists, having the rare opportunity to work alongside elite athletes in major sporting events involves two essential factors: skill and circumstance.

July 13, 2015  By Mari-Len De

For some massage therapists, having the rare opportunity to work alongside elite athletes in major sporting events involves two essential factors: skill and circumstance.

CSMTA executives during the 2014 annual conference. (Back row L-R) Denise England, Jeanette Dobmeier, Karen Hyslop, Jessica Sears, Remo Bucci, Louise Kairns, (front row L-R) Monty Churchman, Brandy Osborne, Trish Schiedel, Jonathan Maister, Roberta Graham and Kim Mark-Goldsworthy 

This was certainly true for Quebec-based massage therapist Alain Bellemare who got into the game of sport massage early on in his career, and has been to four Olympic games and other international sporting events since. He is the only massage therapist in the core medical team for Team Canada at this year’s 2015 PanAm Games in Toronto.

Bellemare says his first real break into the sport massage arena was a combination of luck and being at the right place at the right time. “My major break happened in 1994 when my teacher couldn’t take care of the (national track and field team) because he just had a baby.”


That teacher introduced Bellemare to the national track and field team and became one of his mentors. That one opportunity spiraled into several other breaks to work with various national sports teams, including swimming, track and field, canoe/kayak and judo.

Luck and circumstance may get you a foot in the door, but skills and experience are what will get you inside and keep you there.

Bellemare’s advice to aspiring therapists who want to break into the sporting world: “Study a lot. Practice a lot. Massage therapy is not that complicated, but it’s physical skill. Your brain needs to be set up for it. You need to work a lot, you need to repeat, repeat and repeat.”

Continuing education
Bellamere is a certified member of the Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association (CSMTA). The organization, founded in 1987, offers massage therapists the essentials for making sports a significant focus of their practice: the learning environment to enhance sport-specific massage techniques and skills, and the opportunity to potentially work with some of the best athletes and sports teams in the country.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) looks to organizations such as the CSMTA when sourcing out health-care professionals to join the Canadian core medical
team, which travels with Canadian athletes to big international events like the Olympics, PanAm Games, Commonwealth Games, World University Games and the Francophone Games. 

The COC works with the selection committee at CSMTA to choose the most qualified sport massage practitioner to participate in the medical team for every event.

“You have to be certified (in sport massage) to work at a major game, and that is one of the motivations for people to get certified,” says Trish Schiedel, president of the CSMTA. “At all major games, sport massage therapy is part of Canada’s health-care team.”

Massage Therapy Canada caught up with Schiedel and members of the CSMTA executive committee at its annual conference in Montreal last fall.

Certification with the CSMTA involves 500 hours of on-the-field, hands-on work, a written exam and an oral practical exam. The 500-hour requirement is a combination of hours working with a sports team, at sporting events – which must include both contact and non-contact sports – and clinical hours with athletes.

“We try to make sure our candidates are getting a broad range of experience in different venues, different types of sport,” explains Schiedel.

The organization also offers courses – including sports physiology, sport psychology, sport injuries – designed to help prepare a candidate for the written exam part of the certification process, and as part of the association’s general continuing education offerings for massage therapy practitioners who wish to increase their knowledge base.

In the oral practical component of the certification process, candidates are required to make an assessment and determine treatment protocols based on a given scenario.

Once certified, the therapist is encouraged to complete and maintain first-responder certification.

To date, the CSMTA has 157 members across Canada. A massage therapist does not have to be certified in sport massage to be a member, Schiedel says. As CSMTA member, a massage therapist may use the SMT (CC) designation, which signifies the member is a candidate for certification. Those who have successfully completed certification, however, would have SMT(C) as a designation, which indicates their certified status.

Members can take advantage of several continuing education courses and training offered by the CSMTA. As a certified member, a sport massage therapist can be included in the list of practitioners to be considered by the COC for major games. Non-certified members may not be eligible for COC consideration. However, they will have ample opportunities to get involved in other local and national sporting events.

The CSMTA and its provincial chapters typically get approached by sports teams or event organizers to ask for volunteer sport massage therapists to help out in various sporting events, explains Schiedel. These are great opportunities for certification candidates to bulk up on hours, and other members to simply gain the experience that therapists would not normally gain in their own individual practices.

“One thing that we have really worked on probably in the last eight years is having a national standard around what our members are doing for pre-event massage,” Shiedel says. “We work at having all our members go through the sport massage courses offered by some of our certified members so that we really have that gold standard around what is effective and what you should do.”

The association also offers members the opportunity to participate in a mentorship program. A member is paired up with a certified sport massage therapist who will guide the rookie therapist through the certification process.

CSMTA matches a particular candidate to a certified therapist based on the candidates’ specific requirements and where they are at in the certification process. Some mentors will be helping candidates gain experience in the field and in a particular sport, while some will be assisting the candidates in preparing for the written exams, Schiedel explains.

For Wanda Candolini, certified sport massage therapist based in Sutton, Ont., achieving her certification opened up many opportunities professionally.

“The difference between a certified sport massage therapist or a member of the CSMTA and a registered massage therapist is really for the benefit of the client,” Candolini points out.

“As a therapist we work alone with a client in a room. And all of a sudden, we are put in a beehive of activity. And that is what going through the CSMTA (certification process) is like. You learn how to be able to walk in and be part of a team,” she added. Candolini is one of several sport massage therapists volunteering with the host medical team at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Room to grow
CSMTA is a relatively young organization and Schiedel admits a significant amount of work is being done to increase awareness on sports massage therapy among the public and even in the sporting world itself.

“There are still coaches, people organizing triathlons and marathons that really don’t understand what we do or why they might want to have sport massage therapists as part of the team,” Schiedel says.

The prospects for sports massage specialty, however, look promising. According to Schiedel, the CSMTA makes Canada the only country in the world with an association dedicated to sport massage. There’s huge potential for Canada and the massage therapy profession to be leaders in the field of sport massage.

“We are really surprised that there is no association in the U.S., there is no association in Australia (in sports massage therapy). I’m sure down the road that will happen. We are definitely seen as leaders by other countries in this area,” Schiedel says.

For now, CSMTA is working at raising awareness in the profession about sport massage as a career specialty – and the uptake seems to be increasing.

Quebec is one of the latest provinces to have a CSMTA chapter. The chapter was established in March 2014 and the national association held its first annual general meeting and conference in Montreal last fall.

About 60 massage therapists attended the Montreal event, according to Louise Kairns, a massage therapist based in Montreal and the president of the CSMTA-Quebec chapter.

“We had to really promote it, explain what it was about. For us in Quebec, it’s very rare to have massage conferences so it’s the first of its kind in Montreal,” Kairns explains. “People are used to going to courses, but not in the format of a conference. Everything was new for everyone.”

Kairns says the training and courses that CSMTA offers can help boost massage therapists in Quebec. As a non-regulated profession, basic massage therapy
education in the province is only 400 hours – far from the 2,200 hours RMTs in regulated provinces are required to complete.

The hope is that by taking part of the sport massage courses offered by CSMTA, massage therapists in Quebec can gradually increase their hours of training closer to regulated standard.

“We are going to use this opportunity to really talk about it, follow up with each of the candidates (for certification). What we are hoping to do with the association in the first year is offer a lot of support for them to get the level of training and the hours of training up to the standard of the Canadian association,” Kairns explained.

Words from the field
Massage therapists are lending a hand as part of host medical team at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. Massage Therapy Canada spoke with some of these volunteers
to get their take on this historic event.


Alana MacDougall, Kitchener, Ont.
Registered massage therapist since October 2014
Working toward her sport massage certification
“I know the impact that volunteers have on such a huge event. I’m feeling very lucky that I’m just able to help out. I’m hoping to gain just a ton of experience and meet a whole bunch of people from sporting background to know their bodies and learn new techniques, meet other therapists that I may not otherwise be able to get to meet.”


Jason White, Toronto
Registered massage therapist since 2011
Certified sport massage therapist, certified athletic therapist
“It’s time for me to give back to the athletes, share the experience that I have learned (from these events) and pass them on to other people. Educate them in self-care, educate them in terms of how to become better athletes, how to take care of their injuries. It just makes me feel good.”


Wanda Candolini, Sutton, Ont.
Registered massage therapist since 2002
Certified sport massage therapist
“I call it a working vacation. Some people go lie on the beach. I put my hands on people. When I’m done, my shoulders will be aching, my knuckles will be dragging, but mentally, I would have been challenged and my heart and soul will be full. It will be a privilege to have worked on these athletes who have committed so much; and then to be with medical practitioner who I will network with. I have an expert there who I can tap into.”


Amaya Iribarren, Brampton, Ont.
Registered massage therapist since 2002
Sport massage therapy certification candidate
“I really enjoy working within that whole multidisciplinary team. Every event that you do you always come out of it with some really new great friendships within the sport medicine community. It’s a nice opportunity – especially one as large as this – to showcase the positive impact that we can have.”


Adia Huss-Solomon, Toronto, Ont.
Registered massage therapist since 2007
Sport massage therapy certification candidate
“Working in such a large-scale event will be an incredible kind of exposure that I wouldn’t get anywhere else, really. Meeting new people who are in similar profession will also be a valuable experience – both personally and professionally.”

Mari-Len De Guzman is the editor of Massage Therapy Canada and Canadian Chiropractor magazines. Contact her at

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