In the Detroit Pistons' 59-year history, basketball luminaries such as Isiah Thomas and George Yardley have passed, dribbled and shot for the team. Today, in a special agreement with a Michigan massage school, the Pistons utilize massage therapy to keep their current roster of NBA athletes in top physical condition.
The Detroit Pistons Sports Massage Program offers advanced students at the Health Enrichment Center School of Therapeutic Massage, located in Lapeer, Michigan, the opportunity to practice the advanced massage techniques they are learning, by working directly on players.
Sports Massage Partnership
The program began at the Health Enrichment Center in September 2015, after Luke Fritz, the son of the school’s owner and director, Sandy Fritz, suggested the educational partnership to Jon Ishop, the Pistons’ director of sports medicine who is also a licensed massage therapist.
Luke and Sandy Fritz both bring experience to the partnership as they train, observe and work with the students. During program sessions, both instructors are on-site and available to help.
“Sandy Fritz and I directly supervise the program, working hands-on together with the students,” Luke Fritz said. “This offers not only consistent, safe and effective therapeutic massage to the athlete, but also a rich and complex educational environment.”
Luke Fritz began working with the Pistons in 2011 as a massage intern. The following year, he became the team’s full-time massage therapist and continued to work for the Pistons through most of 2015, when he left his position with the Pistons to begin the training program. Sandy Fritz is the author of several massage therapy textbooks, and provides her expertise in sports and exercise massage. For more than three decades, Sandy Fritz has provided massage therapy to a variety of clients, including professional athletes.
Outcomes of Sports Massage
During this first year, the program was limited to eight advanced, continuing education program sports and exercise massage students. The school sets specific standards and selection criteria for program participants.
“It is a huge commitment on the part of the school to work with this type of educational partnership,” said Sandy Fritz. “This client population provides a rich and one-of-a-kind learning opportunity not typically found in other environments.”
With this knowledge and experience, Sandy Fritz said, students become well-rounded massage therapists and learn how to work with professional athletes in ways that respect their private lives and address their unique needs.
“A well-trained massage therapist can help lift the care burden of athletes from the athletic training and medical staff, [but] there are many misconceptions about sports massage and as a result, athletes are often hurt by massage therapists,” Sandy Fritz said.
She added that effective teamwork, a thorough understanding of sports massage’s scope of practice and a solid massage education are important when working with athletic clients. Students who understand and apply these concepts become better massage therapists. She recommended that students interested in sports massage work hard to develop their own grasp of massage technique and how athletes benefit the most from it.
“The full-body, general massage with the outcomes of relaxation, well-being and ability to rest is the single most important skill,” she explained.
According to Luke Fritz, the training regimen the athletes undergo dictates much of the technique used in each session. Game schedules, recent injuries and fitness goals set by athletic trainers are just a few of the factors massage therapists must consider when working with athletic teams.
A representative from the Pistons was not available for an interview by this article’s deadline.
Toward a Sports Massage Career
Sandy and Luke Fritz both said they enjoy sharing their knowledge about sports massage and believe their partnership with the Detroit Pistons provides excellent career training and preparation for work with both athletes and nonathletic clients.
Health Enrichment Center student and Detroit Pistons Sports Massage Program participant Sarah Coleman said she enjoys learning from the Fritzes, and appreciates the teamwork-centered learning environment.
“This experience has taught me techniques, critical thinking skills, and proper body mechanics to be able to work in this environment without hurting myself or the athletes,” Coleman said.
[This article originally appeared on MASSAGE Magazine's website.]