Lobo Soccer's Fresh Legs Due To Unique Collaboration
Nov. 29, 2012
ALBUQEURQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico men's soccer team finished another successful season with a ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in eleven seasons with back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. As regular of an occurrence as the Lobos in the NCAA's postseason tournament may seem, this year's Lobos have a fresher feel to them after over 20 matches.
This season Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein and his soccer program have added a phase to their recovery; regular massage therapy. What may seem like a menial, novel pampering of athletes has been welcomed with open arms from every member of the men's soccer program.
"We probably started right around preseason, and the guys really love it. It's something they can do that's therapeutic and makes them feel good. I think it's helped tremendously as far as keeping the guys injury-free because the massages are also a psychological benefit for these guys. It's a psychological benefit because having the hands of a professional working on your body does wonders for your body and mind," observed men's soccer athletic trainer Joseph Martinez.
The statistics support Martinez's claim as 15 Lobos have appeared in 18 or more of the team's matches this season. Those 18 Lobos combined to play nearly 21,000 minutes this season.
The program has been working with the Albuquerque School of Massage to organize and coordinate regular massages into the treatment and recovery of the team. Yet the collaboration has been more than just a one-way relationship. It's been a unique adaptation of massage into the established athletic training regimen.
Dawn Saunders, a former softball student-athlete and coach, is the head of the Albuquerque School of Massage. Her experience in college athletics helped spur her interest in athletic training and massage therapy. As Saunders began working more and more with treating athletes and reading more research, she began to see the niche created within athletic training programs for regular massages. It became obvious to her that there is a place for massage therapy in the regular treatment and recovery of athletes.
Research evidence for the benefits of massage therapy is mounting, but they are highlighted by a study from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Their study looked at twelve male cyclists who received massages on only one of their legs before exertion tests. Biopsies after exertion from both legs showed the legs that received massage treatments had higher level of mitochondrias in the cells, which are the part of the cell that produce energy.
Her belief in the importance in massage therapy in hand, Saunders looked for a situation where those beliefs could be applied to high-caliber athletes. She needed someone who believed in the same benefits and bought into Saunders' school of thought on massages.
"For this collaboration in training and medicine to occur, someone had to buy-in. That someone has clearly been Coach Fishbein. He has elite-level athletes, and he sees it (massage therapy) as a therapeutic benefit," Saunders said.
The impact of Saunders and the school's work on the Lobos has been profound in the eyes of their leader.
"The massages that our program has been receiving from the Albuquerque School of Massage have been incredible. It's had an effect on the way our guys recover and increased their awareness about their own bodies. The knowledge base and level of care the program has received in these treatments has been incredible. It gives the guys the confidence that they have done everything they can to recover, but it also helps them tune in with any imbalances in their bodies," stated Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein.
Yet the working relationship was more than just treating Lobo student-athletes, it was about creating opportunities for massage therapy within the framework of athletic treatment. Because so few college athletic programs use regular massages in their treatment programs, the opportunities for licensed massage therapists to get experience with college athletes are limited. Saunders knew if she could demonstrate the value of massage therapy, she could help change the label of massage therapy as a "not-necessary medicine".
It has turned into the ultimate collaboration that has all parties involved buying in to the new addition to the recovery and treatment program. It's a top-down belief in the importance of massage that Saunders sees in the program.
"A great aspect of this whole collaboration has been the guys are receptive and respectful... They are a great group of people, and I really think that comes from Coach Fishbein and his preaching that it's all about recovery and not about someone just working on your skin. He gets it, so they get it."
It's no doubt the men's soccer program at the University of New Mexico believes in this collaboration. Saunders hopes she can use Coach Fishbein and company as a glowing example of how massage therapy can be seen as just another part of the medical collaboration with athletic trainers, student-athletes and personal trainers. As she puts it, it's all about becoming another part of the team.
"When everyone buys into it, we become a spoke in the wheel."