Julie Anne Lacroix graduated from the University of Gloucestershire with an MSc in Sports Therapy in November last year, previously earning a BSc in Kinesiology at the University of Montreal in 2012. She has since settled in the UK with her partner and currently balances her Sports Therapy skills between two very different sports; ice hockey and women’s football. After graduating in 2016, Julie became Head Sports Therapist for the Oxford City Stars, a UK based National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) team which currently plays in League 2, and she is also now working part-time with Aston Villa Ladies FC.
We spoke to Julie about her experiences in Canada and what motivated her to work towards an MSc at the University of Gloucester, and talked about her work in two different sporting arenas.
After graduating from the University of Montreal, Julie went on to work in a sports injury clinic in Montreal. She said:
‘I acted as a strength and conditioning coach, working with young and older athletes, or people coming back from injuries and getting back to work or to their sport. I was working alongside Athletic Therapists and was inspired to learn how to treat injuries in the same way. I loved that I could help injured people with exercises and movements, but I wished I could manually assess and treat them in order to help them even more.
‘Before deciding to take my education further, I went to teach Alpine Skiing full time for two years in Whistler, Canada. Getting away and doing something I am truly passionate about helped me decide what to do next. That’s when I came to the UK, the move also motivated by my British partner, to do the demanding MSc Sports Therapy programme at the University of Gloucestershire.’
Once Julie had graduated, and with the help of one of her mentors, she began working as Head Sports Therapist for the Oxford City Stars ice hockey team. She is still in the same role today and her duties are varied:
‘I take care of the health and safety of the players, making sure they are fit to play, and I attend all of the games and training sessions in case any traumatic injuries occur. I design and supervise their rehabilitation plans when necessary and try to influence their fitness through warmup protocols, as well as creating exercises programmes for them to do outside of the ice rink.
‘It is a very interesting environment to work in as the players all have different jobs outside of hockey, so I end up dealing with many issues that may not come from playing the sport. There are a variety of age groups within the squad, from 17 to over 35 years old.
‘Being Canadian, I have always loved hockey, and I feel lucky to be able to work within this sport here in the UK.’
Julie is also involved with the England National Team Programme (ENTP- a pathway development programme for younger players) for hockey, mainly overseeing the U14 squad. After the programme has ended, the athletes are able to try out for the GB U16 squad. Julie said:
‘It’s a good opportunity for the athletes from each age group to be skating and training with the best players in the country every three to four months, as well as being exposed to good training habits like warm-ups and cool-downs, fitness testing and strength and conditioning programmes. We hope to influence every ice hockey club in the UK by sending the players back to their own rinks with good habits.
‘Last year we went to Nymburk, in Czech Republic, for the selected players to play against European level teams, in order to learn and grow into better players. It was great to be part of such a fun trip.’
Julie’s skillset extends beyond the ice rink, however, as she has shown through her work with the Aston Villa Ladies FC Medical Team. Her role with the club is focused mainly on the Development Team and is part-time, which allows her to work with both the ice hockey and football teams, along with any other Sports Therapy opportunities she finds. Julie said:
‘I applied for the role and was thrilled to be invited to join the medical staff in this growing environment. So far, I’ve had the chance to work with many teams in different sports, but never with a women’s team, which I find particularly interesting.
‘It is also an exciting opportunity to work with this big-name club at a semi-professional level. I always find myself learning a lot and I hope this will help me to be a better practitioner in the future.
‘It was really exciting to go to the Manchester City FC training ground with the Development Team for a pre-season game and to see the extraordinary facilities there. Now the season is just starting and the Development Team is doing well. We try to get the players to their best fitness level so they can work towards playing in the First Team.
I’ve already helped two injured players return to play this season and to see them beaming as they went on the pitch was my best moment so far.’
Julie has a word of advice for Graduate Sports Therapists, whether they are looking to enter the world of professional football like her, or a different sporting environment entirely:
‘For any new Graduate Sports Therapist, I would say to never give up and apply for everything. Grab any experiences you can get your hands on, even if it involves some voluntary work, as they will lead you to be a better Sports Therapist every day. It’s in those small opportunities that you might find yourself learning the most. But most importantly, trust yourself as a Sport Therapist, because we really have the best job in the industry.’