Nov. 15, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Injuries are as much a part of the game of football as first downs and facemasks and so, too, are the efforts to prevent such physical setbacks.
While a lot of luck is involved in avoiding injuries in a sport defined by athletes violently crashing into each other, players work diligently to keep their bodies as conditioned, strong and in as good of shape as possible to limit the damage that can be sustained on game days and on the practice fields.
Intent on giving Florida State's football players as many injury-preventing advantages as possible, Jake Pfeil, the athletic department's associate director of sports medicine and the head athletic trainer for Jimbo Fisher's team, placed a call in August of 2011 to the CORE Institute, a school of massage therapy in Tallahassee. Massages have long been used by athletes as a recovery method after competition and even though it wasn't in the program's budget leading up to last season, Pfeil wanted the Seminoles to have the same opportunity.
After working out a plan with the COREE Institute's founder, George Kousaleos, Pfeil set up Sunday massages for the 'Noles last year.
Kousaleos, who has extensive experience working with elite athletes, was eager to help.
The CORE Institute's first major athletic project occurred in the summer of 1995 when Kousaleos' crew began working with British Olypmic athletes in preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Games. They then worked with the team again during the Olympics the following summer and the response and effectiveness was evident enough that Kousaleos was asked to head up the international sports massage team for the Athens Olympics in 2004. For that project, he hired therapists from 18 different countries to work with some of the world's greatest athletes.
Leading up to the London Olympics, Kousaleos spent the better part of three years in the UK working with and training therapists for this past summer's games.
"Sports massage is obviously something that our school has a specialization in," Kousaleos said. "We do a form of deeper tissue massage that's very slow but most athletes respond well to it."
FSU's players sure did.
Pfeil and FSU director of sports science and football operations Erik Korem were so pleased with the players' once-a-week response to the work of Kousaleos and his staff that they wanted to schedule more and make it a set part of the Seminoles' routine in 2012.
"They wanted to increase the number of times that the athletes received sports therapy -- especially for two-a-day practices," Kousaleos said. "So we started a student internship program in June and July to work with the athletes twice a week during their conditioning and weight lifting time before two-a-days got started."
That schedule then continued into the season where the the weekly massage sessions began featuring graduates of the CORE Institute's well-respected program.
FSU's players have since spent this season getting a massage late in the week before a game and then on Sundays after competing. Ten games into the year and within grasp of earning a trip to the ACC Championship Game with a win at Maryland, Florida State has -- knock on wood -- remained remarkably healthy across the roster, save a for a few impossible-to-prevent season-ending injuries.
"It has been a nice addition to the entire process of recovery and regeneration for the players during the preseason and season," Pfeil said. "It helps prevent injury by assisting the body's recovery from fatigue, reducing muscle stiffness, and increasing range of motion. It also assists in the players ability to overcome stress, which is often not considered."
Each massage lasts about 30 minutes for each athlete and the end-of-week and day-after sessions have different purposes.
The Thursday sessions (or Tuesday session as was the case last week before FSU's game at Virginia Tech) focus on loosening muscles after days of tough work at practice. The Sunday massages (or Friday after the 28-22 triumph against the Hokies) are the ones that are directed entirely at the practice of deep tissue massage.
"The connective tissue creates a protective barrier around the muscle but it also has sensory neurons so when an athlete feels something in a muscle it's from those neurons," Kousaleos said. "Luckily that's on the outside of the muscle so we can improve the condition of that connective tissue. If we improve the condition of that, athletes feel like they can stretch further, they can run a little bit more easily, they feel more upright, they feel like their body has been lengthened and all of those are real positives."
Despite hectic daily schedules of practice, meetings, class and homework, Kousaleos said his staff of highly-trained therapists never have to worry about a player not showing up at his designated time.
The Seminoles not only see the benefit on the field; they feel it, too.
"It's really helpful; ask the guys in the pros," junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "They are always preaching about how you've got to take care of your body over the course of a whole season. It's the same in college. To have that treatment is a blessing."