Aimée Knight is a Graduate Sports Therapist based in the North West of England who is also one of the very few women working in elite men’s football in the UK. Having worked in professional football for over 4 years, Aimee also works with a North – West based Physiotherapy company called Pro-Fit which gives her the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, including ‘gym goers’, professionals, marathon runners, powerlifters and sprinters.
Having decided from a young age she wanted to be a Sports Therapist, Aimee now specialises in Sports Massage, Injury, Rehabilitation,Postural Re-education,Gait Analysis, Injury Prevention, Stability programmes, Sports and Musculoskeletal Injuries
Aimee is also one of our workshop delivers at our up and coming Female Coaching Conference on Saturday 29th April 2017. In the lead up to this conference, we asked Aimee about her career and what she is most looking forward to about being involved…
I believe that you wanted to be a sports therapist from a young age – what spurred this ambition and how did you take the first steps in gaining your qualifications?
I had physio treatment when I was younger with the NHS (National Health Service, England) and told my Mum that is what I wanted to do when I was older! So ever since then, it was in my mind that that was what I wanted to do.
When I was in Year 10 at High School, I visited Blackpool Football Club for our mandatory work experience. I loved the environment and enjoyed how each day was so varied and different, and as I loved sport and PE I realised that doing some sort of physiotherapy in this type of environment was ideal for me.
I tailored my high schools exams (GSCE?s) around what I enjoyed studying (which was mainly Science and PE) and carried that all on to college, which was a great way of leading into my sports therapy degree at University.
Can you tell us about your role at Pro-Fit – what does your average day look like?
Pro-Fit is a physiotherapist company based in the North West of England, who I work with at one of their three bases in Preston. My days are very varied because my clients need all different types of work and support. I have some clients that need rehabilitation, some have had surgeries, some have injuries etc. The rehab is tailored for my clients needs and takes place either in my treatment room or on the gym floor. I also have a few massage clients who are preparing for various sporting events, for example, I have someone preparing for an Ironman, I have a few marathon runners and triathletes, and also someone competing for Team GB in an aquathon very soon.
Some days can start really early and finish really late as I tailor my diary around other work I do outside of Pro-Fit as well.
You are one of a very small group of women who work in men’s football in England; can you tell us what your role is with your English Football League 2 side team and what are the challenges you face being a female in such a male dominated environment?
I have worked in men’s football from Championship level down to League 2 (when I started with the team, they were in the Championship and now fallen to league 2 – but that wasn’t my fault! haha), my role as a sports therapist is to work with the men?s first team following training sessions and support for match days.
In training – I do a lot of soft tissue work with the players such as massage – I also continually analyse each players posture, picking up on small differences which may have changed week in week out, (which helps us to identify what injuries they are more susceptible to) and general physio work assessment.
On match days – I sit in the dug out with all the other team staff and substitutes, which I have to admit to getting funny looks from others teams – because not many other teams have females in their team staff. You can see them trying to work out what I do!
The role with the football club is really interesting and I enjoy the work there, I love being in a sporting environment.
What were the early days of this role like for you?
It was interesting at the beginning because I didn’t know how it would work – there wasn?t (and still isn’t) any other women out there who I could replicate and learn from. So I had to just get on with it! You come across many hurdles and different managers approach things differently. For example, some managers have told me not to come to the dressing room when they are giving their talks and then I?ve had managers who have been the opposite and encouraged me to.
There is also a hierarchy; some members of the medical team might not see me as important or on the same level as them – maybe because I am female or maybe because they want to be a more authoritative figure in the team.
The lads (players) just get on with it, although if they have been in clubs without any female therapist or staff, they do find it strange at first. Players who come from overseas struggle with the fact I am a female a lot. There is a French player we have at the moment who said in France you will never see a female in the game of football. He couldn’t believe that I was in and around the men’s team.
And do you think that is more of a football thing, or a sports therapist issue?
I think it’s more of a football thing. In Rugby, there are a lot more female physio’s for example. I’m not sure why, maybe that?s the nature of that sport. A lot of my female friends work in rugby and they say it’s much more female friendly.
I have even had issues with officials involved in the game. In one instance I was making a cup of coffee for myself and the other therapists I work with and one of the officials presumed I was the tea lady of the club. He asked me to make him two teas and a coffee; his first thought was that I was there to cater. So the assumptions aren’t just from the team that we work with , its external staff too.
How do you overcome these challenges?
I know how to hold myself, I am quite a big character, so anything I come across I can handle it in a diplomatic way. But you have to be quite strong minded. You can have your down days, but in the world of football you can?t let that show – the lads (players) will jump on it!? Being a male in football is hard enough, so being a female can be really hard! The players have an alpha male approach to everything, so being a female in that environment can be very challenging. But it’s the job I want.
It?s so rare to see another female staff member in other teams, every time we play a different team I look out for one! If I see a fellow female on a team I want to shout ?hey friend!! Even then, when I do see a fellow female, they often don’t have meaningful roles with regards to the amount of work they do. I don’t always know what they do – but it’s not often a physio role etc.
What piece of advice would you give to other women out there who want to work in men’s football in the UK?
You can’t see it as working in men’s football, you just have to see it as working in football. If you go in with that attitude, you are already limited and labelling yourself. There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to work in men’s football – any hiccups or hurdles you come up against, you can always get around and overcome. If you make the gender issue a big thing, that’s when it becomes a big thing. I am always in and around the dressing rooms before and after games, training etc and I don’t bat an eye lid. Whatever is going on is just going on and I don’t pay attention. If you go into the role apprehensive, that’s when people will see your lack of confidence. It’s about being confident in yourself and knowing that you are good at your job and that’s why you are there. If it’s what you want to do, do it! This Girl Can!
What is your favourite thing about being a sports therapist?
My favourite thing is seeing the difference you make with people, so for example – I have a client at the moment who is having ACL rehab and I have been with her since week 1 of the injury. To being with, she could not fully move or even bend her leg and now she is running round the track. So I really enjoy working with her, encouraging and helping her progress. When my clients succeed, I know I have done a good job with them.
Another example was when I helped a client with her gait (walking movement) as she struggled to walk properly. She is a doctor who walks and runs around a ward all day helping her patients and running to emergencies and yet was struggling to walk! And now, she doesn’t have that problem any more and her confidence has increased also.
If you could advise the average joe to make one life change that will improve their physical movement everyday – what would that be?
it all comes down to posture for me. Nowadays we are all sat at our computers, on our phones, a lot of sedentary jobs – you need to educate yourself on correct postures and how to maintain it. Everyone’s posture is different – so be aware of yourself! Book yourself in with someone like me and they can tell you what you are doing wrong and how to correct it etc.
What do you think is the number 1 thing that many coaches and athletes neglect in their everyday training?
Mobility and stretching – hands down this is the number one thing that is neglected. Most coaches are so focussed on technique, times, distances, scores etc, but they often don’t look at what can make the difference everyday. Athletes need to do regular mobility and stretching to be able to perform better.
A lot of people don’t see the direct link from mobility to performance. They do for skill training and competition replication, but what they don’t realise is that mobility can help improve all of this 10 fold.
Also, many coaches don’t realise just how poor their athletes mobility is!? You won?t find that out until it’s tested or watched. Even from school level, children are not taught how to stretch properly. There are so many different ways to work on mobility – doing mobility properly can be as intense as a full workout – so it’s not a waste of time!
You are delivering two workshops at our up and coming conference – can you tell us a little bit about what you are delivering?
I am delivering two workshops at the conference, the first one is about Posture. I am hoping to give the coaches a bit of an idea of what I look for in posture. This will educate them to help their athletes day to day. It’s important to build the foundations and what you can do to fix bad posture.
The second workshop is about mobility and I will include lots of tips and techniques that can be added into training sessions, every day routines at home and the importance of mobility. I want to educate the coaches about the direct link of mobility and performance.
I am looking forward to being in the positive environment with females that want to achieve the same goals, you don’t see this type of environment anywhere to be honest!
Because of competition pressure and the stigma often associated with being a female in sport, its not always a positive environment to be in – but this will be fantastic and very insightful.