Volunteering supports experience

Having wanted to get into the working world of sport, studying at postgraduate level was the natural choice for Tom Shaw. And today he is putting his experience into practice as a sports physiotherapist at Bristol Rovers FC.

The University of Gloucestershire was local to Tom, who lived in the Forest of Dean. Having studied at the University of Worcester, and then working as a further education lecturer teaching level three diploma in sport and exercise, he decided to take his practice to the next level.

“The University of Gloucestershire had a good reputation for sports therapists going into sports clubs, so for me it was a case of locality and reputation, and also that my uncle used to work there many years ago. I met the lecturers and they were really nice.

“During the course we did a work placement, and I was lucky to do this with Forest Green Rovers. I continued there after the placement, and finished the course. I originally went in as academy fitness coach, and then when I finished I became a sports therapist for under 18s, and cover some under 9s – splitting my role between sports therapy and fitness for under 18s.”

Six weeks ago he started work for the Bristol Rovers FC first team, which has been newly promoted to league one.

Tom is also working for himself as a sports therapist.

“I find this gives me a wider scope of work. Football, usually speaking, incurs a majority of lower limb injuries, but with the general public, there are all kinds of injuries and conditions and that broader scope keeps me sharp.”

Tom found that one of the best things about the course was how it gave him the foundations on which to build his professional practice.

“I really enjoyed that the lecturers had lots of experience, they really brought it to life for me, and helped me understand someone that’s working in professional life and prepares you nicely for what it might be like. I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

“I also found the expectation was quite high on the course, we weren’t spoon fed, you had to work hard for the qualification and they had really high standards from the start which was encouraging for me. It was a good preparation for the working world, both in clinical and a sporting setting. Lecturers had done both so it was good to tap into their experiences.”

Tom found that the time went very quickly while he was studying, so he learned to adapt his time accordingly.

“I would say with how intense the course is, and the expectations, your time management skills have to be really good and it has to take priority – exams roll really fast. I was in one and half days a week while working, so make sure you are prepared for that, especially if you don’t already have a background and are learning from scratch. I found it was really important to prioritise your time at that level.”

And for anyone considering studying at undergraduate or postgraduate level, Tom would recommend volunteering.

“I think it’s a really good idea to get some experience, and shadow professionals, because that’s the age old way of doing things. Find a local club, someone that will allow you to make mistakes, find a mentor.

“Volunteering offers you a wider working experience – at university you’re not really exposed to that many patients and it can be a challenging environment, but volunteering can help you learn to build a good rapport and communication skills, which mean that you aren’t on the back foot when it comes to starting work.”