Three years ago, I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell that changed the way I approach business practice. In the book What The Dog Saw, Gladwell tries to show us the world through the eyes of others. One of the people the author references is the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan. People are fascinated with what he can make dogs do and the presence he has. Gladwell suggests that no one ever wonders what the dog is thinking when Milan commands them.
Naturally this spoke to me since, in business, it’s the things you don’t usually think of that often make the difference between success and failure. Throughout my career many health professionals, including students, continue to ask questions revolving around:
- how to attract athletes;
- how to become a sports consultant; and even
- how to get athletes to value your treatment.
After reading Gladwell’s book, I thought what better way to understand the needs of our athletes than to ask them, directly, what they want. So, I did just that. I consulted some of my contacts to create a panel of nine professional and amateur athletes. My purpose was to ask them the questions that chiropractors are trying to answer.
Meet my expert panel:
- Garrett McIntyre (GM), linebacker, NFL’s New York Jets
- Stevie Baggs Jr (SB), linebacker CFL Calgary Stampeders
- Belton Johnson (BJ), lineman, CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos
- Brian Simmons (BS), lineman, CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats
- Terry Grant (TG), running back, CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats
- Pat Woodcock (PW), receiver, retired eight-year veteran of the NFL and CFL, Grey Cup Champion, and owner of Elite Performance Academy
- Evan McEneny (EM), defenseman, member of NHL’s Vancouver Canucks
- Chelsey Nash (CN), world champion professional kickboxer under 65 kg
- Lucas Ferritto (LF), striker, NCAA’s Men’s Soccer, Simon Fraser University
I put four questions to my panel – the responses are meant to influence the way chiropractors and future patient-athletes interact.
1 What does a high-performance athlete look for when choosing a clinic or practitioner?
BJ: The greatest factors in selecting a sports clinic or a practitioner for my sport related health-care needs are word of mouth and that they are able to provide solid manual treatment.
CN: When looking to sports clinics, I generally go based on opinions and recommendations from other athletes I know and trust. I assume that if they are happy with their doctor and are seeing results, then I should too. A referral will get me in the door; high-quality results are what keeps me there!
PW: Over the course of a season, an athlete might require ART, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and more. The more skills a practitioner has, the better it is for the athlete.
SB: I choose my doctors based on reputation. If other respected athletes recommend them, and if they do acupuncture and muscle work, I am there.
TG: Most athletes look for sports clinics and practitioners that are well known among their teammates. In my opinion, a sports clinic or practitioner’s reputation among other athletes is the greatest factor.
GM: The biggest thing I look for is someone who understands the kind of treatment I need. I prefer more muscle treatment rather than someone who cracks you. I want someone who understands what I am looking for and will base their treatments on that. As you know I am pretty in tune with my body, so I also like a therapist who can explain to me why they are doing what they do.
BS: Is the clinician familiar with many forms of treatments like acupuncture and muscle work? Are they familiar with the concerns specifically related to my profession and position? Do they have a good reputation? Those are the questions I try to answer.
Key reasons athletes choose a practitioner
- Reputation. If you show results, athletes will tell others.
- Explain treatment in simple terms. Remember, if you can’t explain it simply you don’t know it well enough.
- Preference in manual work, muscle release and acupuncture.
2 What factor would make you select one practitioner over another?
BJ: I prefer having a practitioner who gets to know me as a person instead of just a patient.
TG: Personality. I want to be able to build a trusting relationship with my doctor, feel like he/she truly cares about my health instead of making me feel like a “project.”
CN: One important factor that would make me pick one practitioner over another would be how well we “click.” I can relate and express myself better during our visits.
PW: Probably the number one factor would be a recommendation from a teammate or another athlete.
Key reasons athletes will stay with a practitioner
- Listen to your patient.
- Be personable.
- Truly care about the results.
3 Do young athletes value treatment, even when they are not injured, to keep themselves in good shape?
PW: Definitely not. I think most athletes are largely unaware of how beneficial rest, recovery, and proactive treatment can be for their performance and their overall well-being. At Elite Performance Academy, we are constantly educating our young athletes on the importance of recovery and preventative
EM: In my early years of minor hockey, I saw no real benefit in going to see a chiropractor for a sore shoulder, knee or any other injury. Now that I’m in my third season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, and as I look forward to the NHL, I have seen a greater need for professional help with my body.
LF: It is vital to continue with treatment even when you are feeling good. Although many athletes understand this, many do not choose to make the commitment to regular care. So, I would say most athletes do not recognize the value of performance care.
Key reasons athletes will not seek treatment if they are not injured
- Young athletes are not educated in the benefits of regular treatment.
- We need to be educators during every visit.
4 Which would you value more: a doctor who charges a fair price for treatment or a doctor who treats you for free?
EM: Generally, my opinion is that if the treatment is free then the therapist won’t care as much and have any personal incentive to do the job the right way. However, it is more respectable if the therapist charges a fair price. For me, it’s important that the therapist is motivated, and wants to do a good job to make sure I return for another treatment.
BS: I believe that usually you get what you pay for in life. With that said, I just wouldn’t expect a doctor who doesn’t charge for treatments to really be concerned about who he is treating. I want someone that charges me the fair price because it will make me feel as if he is serious about his practice.
SB: I feel that when I’m paying for treatment I become more accountable for my health. Nothing in life is free.
TG: I don’t want anything for free. It makes me question the level of treatment I would get.
Key points regarding perception of value in treatment
- Unfortunately, many chiropractors fall into a trap where they treat amateur and even professionals athletes free of charge. Sometimes we think that doing this will provide us with more exposure, but in the long run it can devalue our product.
- Athletes perceive cost of treatment to equal the quality of treatment.
- Charging a fair price for treatment makes the athlete more committed to you and to their health.
You will notice that outside of the athletes’ preference of manual-based treatments, their requests are really no different from those of anyone else looking for treatment. In general, people looking for any service tend to prefer someone with a good reputation, someone who listens to their concerns and someone who genuinely cares about attaining a positive result.
Doing all this while you provide a service of value will keep people (and athletes) coming back.
Dr. Anthony Lombardi is a private consultant to athletes in the NFL, CFL and NHL, and founder of Hamilton Back Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic. He teaches his fundamental EXSTORE Assessment System and practice building workshops to various health professionals. For more information, visit www.exstore.ca .
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