A guide to partnering with high school, college or pro sports teams
IF YOU ARE A CHIROPRACTOR interested in working with athletes, it is essential to understand the specific requirements and processes involved in joining the sports medicine staff of a high school, college or professional team. We will address the questions I am commonly asked by students, interns and licensed chiropractors looking to treat athletes in various sports settings.
This information was gathered by reaching out to head athletic trainers and chiropractors from NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS teams, as well as approximately 1,000 university sports medicine staff nationwide.
90% of pro sports teams
In the realm of professional sports, chiropractors are a vital part of sports medicine staff, with an impressive presence across various leagues.
Remarkably, 90% of pro sports teams enlist the expertise of chiropractors. In the NFL, all 32 teams have chiropractors on their staff, followed by the NHL with 31 out of 32 teams. The MLS boasts a 75% inclusion rate with 18 out of 24 teams, while the MLB and NBA stand at 97% (29 of 30 teams) and 80% (24 of 30 teams) respectively. Shifting our focus to collegiate and university sports medicine staff, of the 1,100 institutions surveyed, only 238 incorporate chiropractors (as of the 2019-2020 season).
Becoming a DC for athletic teams
To become a chiropractor specializing in treating athletes, you may want to follow these steps:
- a) Obtain the necessary qualifications: Complete your chiropractic education and obtain your license to practice. I know this is a no-brainer, yet I’ve met some chiropractic interns who have already worked as certified athletic trainers — that is an enormous advantage from the start.
- b) Gain experience and expertise: Develop specialized skills and knowledge in sports-related chiropractic care. Consider pursuing additional certifications or postgraduate education programs focused on sports chiropractic or sports medicine, such as biomechanics, rehab and nutrition, all while developing your hands to be extraordinary at spinal and extremity manipulation.
- c) Network and build relationships: Attend sports medicine conferences, seminars and workshops to connect with professionals in the field. Join relevant local, statewide, national and international organizations and associations, such as the American Chiropractic Association’s Sports Council or FICS, the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic, to expand your network and stay updated on industry trends.
- d) Volunteer and gain practical experience: Offer your services as a chiropractor to local sports teams or events. This can help you gain valuable experience working with athletes and demonstrate your commitment to the field.
- e) Build a strong reputation: Provide exceptional care to your patients, athletes or otherwise, to establish a positive reputation in the community. Word-of-mouth recommendations can be instrumental in securing opportunities with high school, college and pro teams.
Integrating into sports medicine staffs
Getting in with sports medicine staffs of sports teams requires persistence and targeted efforts. Consider the following strategies:
a) Research the team and its staff: Understand the structure of the sports medicine department and the roles of various professionals Identify key decision-makers and understand their preferences and requirements for chiropractic care.
Marketing Game Plan:
- Send an email, or regular mail, to the head athletic trainer introducing yourself.
- Make it very brief, one paragraph, as they don’t have time to read a multi-page CV.
- In the next paragraph, share a few highlights from a well-researched published article in a respectable journal about the benefits of chiropractic.
- Include a copy of the article.
- Use a highlighter to exhibit the few key points in the article you attached.
- Consider doing this once a month with new research.
- If appropriate, set a meeting with the head athletic trainer about the possibility of working together.
b) Network strategically: Connect with professionals already working in sports medicine, such as athletic trainers, physical therapists or team physicians. Attend industry events, conferences and workshops to meet and engage with these individuals. Seek mentorship opportunities to learn from experienced sports medicine practitioners. Building alliances with these professionals can increase your chances of being considered for a position.
c) Leverage social media and online presence: Establish a professional online presence through a website, blog or social media platforms. Share valuable content related to sports chiropractic care to showcase your expertise and attract the attention of sports medicine professionals.
How to approach sports medicine staff
When approaching the sports medicine staff of a team, it is crucial to communicate your qualifications, experience and commitment effectively. Tailor your message based on your research about the team and its specific needs.
Consider highlighting the following points:
a) Your expertise in sports chiropractic: Emphasize your specialized training and experience in providing chiropractic care to athletes. Highlight any additional certifications or postgraduate education you have completed in sports-related chiropractic or sports medicine. Truth be told: Only 20% (or less) of the chiropractors with pro sports teams have a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician credential (CCSP). I know chiropractors who had just graduated and unexpectedly landed a pro team (such as Kyle Prusso, DC, Oakland Raiders, circa 2007, and others).
b) Your relevant experience: Share your experience working with athletes, including any sports teams you have previously treated or events you have volunteered for. Provide examples of successful outcomes and testimonials from athletes you have treated.
c) Your collaborative approach: Emphasize your willingness to work collaboratively with other sports medicine professionals to ensure comprehensive care for the athletes. Alan Sokoloff, DC for the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles, often shares the colloquialism, “We need to play well together in the sandbox.” Demonstrate your ability to integrate chiropractic care with other treatment modalities commonly used in sports medicine.
I vividly recall one story of a chiropractor being brought in to treat a New Jersey pro team, and within weeks, he was gone. I found out there was “No way an athletic trainer, without a medical degree, is going to tell me, a licensed chiropractor, how and when to treat.”
For as much as I respect his opinion, one must remember that you are in their house, and they are responsible for millions, if not a billion dollars of contracts — maybe it’s best to be part of the triage until you gain the absolute confidence of the head athletic trainer.
d) Your commitment to ongoing education: Highlight your dedication to staying current with the latest research, techniques and advancements in sports chiropractic care. Mention your involvement in professional organizations and your attendance at relevant conferences or continuing education programs, such as the Professional Football Chiropractic Society.
Certifications and trainings
Although the specific criteria may differ, possessing specialized certifications or training in sports chiropractic or sports medicine can greatly improve your prospects of working with high school, college or professional teams.
It is worth considering the pursuit of certifications like the CCSP or Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (DACBSP). These credentials showcase your dedication to providing exceptional sports-related care and may be preferred by sports teams, although they are usually not mandatory or explicitly requested.
After 37 years in the profession I’ve seen that three characteristics of working with a team are absolute essentials that eclipse any postgraduate certifications:
a) Be a “black belt, 10th degree” in spinal and extremity manipulation, as no other professional can do what you do. Anyone can do soft tissue work, or have the latest, greatest tool or therapy machine.
b) Have exceptional social skills. Take a course in neurolinguistic programming or sports psychology. Your communication is all about inspiring your athlete and the training staff around you.
c) Then there are always “other tools in the tool belt,” says the chiropractor for the Detroit Lions, Karen Slota. She suggests you have an arsenal of treatment modalities, such as dry needling, acupuncture, cupping or other soft tissue techniques, not just the “crack-n-go” approach.
Sports chiropractic compensation
Compensation for working with athletes from high school, college or pro teams can vary based on factors such as the level of the team, your experience and the specific arrangement with the team. Compensation models may include a salary, hourly rate or per-session fee.
This is a big one — if you do it for free, you become worthless. Treat for free and your value does not compare to your liability. What rattles doctors who do not charge an athlete is when they find out the athlete paid over $200 for an hour of massage, or $15,000 for a night out. Also, if you injure an athlete, especially a pro, it will be known all over town, the country and maybe the world.
If you think I’m kidding…my second year with the Miami Dolphins, in 1997, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback yelled out in the middle of a busy training room that I broke his rib after an anterior thoracic move. The place went silent, as it was a whole three seconds before he grinned and said, “Just kidding!” In that moment, I imagined I’d have to practice in China under an alias in order to continue in this profession.
That’s when I began to charge top dollar for my services — anywhere from $100-500 per treatment — contingent on whether it was at the facility, my office or travel to the stadium, or the hotel, or their home. Insurance, cash, a combination thereof, but always be compensated. I do not trade a service for an autographed photo, as it changes the dynamic that becomes athlete/fan vs. athlete/doctor.
A stipend for the year may be $10,000-$100,000. This is contingent on the amount of time spent with the team and the number of treatments rendered. Counterbalance the amount with the quantity of time spent out of your office, and calculate — are you losing money?
Season tickets may not be enough. Advertising your services in the media guide or a listing on the team’s website may not offset your true value.
Do not pay a team to be their doctor. I know some who do. At the pro level, this is a breach of some pro sports collective bargaining agreements. Some players’ unions do not condone this practice, due to it not being based on merit. Alternatively, the position goes to the highest (or lowest) bidder, which tends to be a conflict of interest to the athlete.
Find the team’s decision-maker
The primary person to contact may vary depending on the team structure and hierarchy. Start by reaching out to the head athletic trainer or sports medicine director, as they often play a key role in selecting health care providers for the team.
Athletic directors, team physicians or other members of the sports medicine staff can also provide valuable insights or refer you to the appropriate decision-makers. Networking and building relationships with professionals already working in sports medicine can help you gain introductions and navigate the team’s hierarchy more effectively.
Becoming a chiropractor for athletes on a high school, college or pro team can require a combination of specialized training, practical experience, networking and strategic communication. Follow these steps and enhance your chances of joining a sports medicine staff and contributing to the well-being and performance of athletes in the competitive sports arena.
SPENCER BARON, DC, DACBSP, served as a team chiropractic physician for the Miami Dolphins for 19 years and is author of “Secrets of the Game.” He currently serves as the team chiropractor for Nova Southeastern University Sports Medicine and is the president of NeuroSport Elite. In 2001 he helped establish the Pro Football Chiropractic Society and the Pro Baseball Chiropractic Society, bringing together some of the best sports chiropractors in the nation. Now he directs the same type of efforts to DoCS (Doctors of Chiropractic Sports at doc-sports.com), an organization committed to creating camaraderie and coaching within the chiropractic profession. Reprints of this article are permitted as long as it links back to the DoCS website: DoC-Sports.com.