BY VICKI S. WINSTON, BHS, LMT
Competition is an important consideration for any industry, and, whether we are ready to accept it or not, the massage industry is no exception. Massage competitions provide a unique opportunity for massage therapists to demonstrate their skills and build their professional identity. By competing, massage therapists can expand their knowledge, challenge themselves, and improve their services. In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of massage competition and how it can positively impact the massage industry as a whole.
Historically, the practice of massage has been something that has been hidden and private, and as solitary practitioners in secluded environments, we don't get to see each other in the usual sense of exhibition. We know that massage is a dynamic, sometimes life changing, experience for the recipient. What we don’t take into consideration is that in the right context, it can also be a dynamic experience for the spectator. Professional content creators like Ian Harvey known online as “The Massage Sloth” and the “Rebel Massage” therapist Allison Denney, have shown this to be true. When we watch others perform even the most basic and fundamental massage strokes, we have a visual interpretation of a sensory experience; an important instructional component for every beginning massage student.
Events like the American Massage Championship can be an incredibly powerful tool for encouraging creativity and innovation. By celebrating the excellence and unique qualities of participants, rewarding and acknowledging important contributions, and engendering pride and excitement in the practice of massage, massage competitions can inspire and motivate future leaders to take risks and push boundaries. It is a great way to showcase the best of what the massage industry has to offer, and to foster an environment that encourages innovation and creativity. By recognizing exceptional work, it acknowledges those involved and serves as an example of excellence for others to strive for. Not only does it provide an incentive to perform better, but it encourages practitioners to stay on top of new developments in the industry.
When I mention that my teaching facility will be hosting our state’s inaugural state massage championship, the question most often asked is “how can you judge a massage?” Like a master tailor, great massage therapists don't just treat human bodies, they interpret the body with precision and tailor the massage to the human on their table. Measurable details like comfort, appropriate pressure, temperature, and draping as well as the awareness and recognition of non-verbal cues are easily reported by the receiver. Body mechanics, grace, and artistry are all judged according to guidelines provided by event organizers. Just like art, the appreciation of massage is subjective and artistry and beauty inherent in the work that therapists showcase is rewarded.
"I looked at my competitors and I thought that, If they could do it, I could do it.” -Tommy Hillfiger
Critics of competitive massage regularly remark how championship events “degrade” the profession. If we view these comments through the lens of local competition for consumer dollars, it may seem to make economic sense to instinctively protect one’s professional territory by dissuading peers from participating in public displays. However, the value of a championship is not in the potential market share for participating therapists. It is that it allows people to learn from each other and to give recognition to those who truly excel in the craft of massage. In addition, it offers incentives to therapists to learn and master new skills and to bring those skills back to their clients. For the public it helps to bring attention to the field and to raise the standard of massage education. Mike Hinkle, the founder of the World Massage Festival says “I have found no better way to improve public awareness about massage than competition massage.” Mike notes that because the professional organizations haven’t been able to produce a coherent message that both promotes and protects licensed professionals, that competitions like the American Massage Championship are “here to stay.”
Massage competition can be a great way to promote professional development in the massage industry. Not only does it provide a platform for massage professionals to showcase their skills and knowledge, it also offers an opportunity to see how others practice within the same field. With the inclusion of participants from every culture, one of the main benefits of massage competition is that it can help reduce the incidence of cultural appropriation by western therapists of eastern modalities. When we have the chance to witness practitioners of these modalities in their own elements, we can better understand and appreciate the original context and technique. It can also help us to differentiate between interpretations of the work of other massage professionals, and original content created by the massage practitioner.
By attending massage competitions, practitioners can gain insight into new practices, techniques, and treatments that can help enhance their skill sets. Furthermore, it provides them with an opportunity to connect with and learn from more experienced practitioners in their field, thus promoting further professional development. This can help therapists stay up-to-date on industry trends, regulations, and methods. Ultimately, massage competition promotes professional development within the massage industry, which leads to better services for clients, and more opportunities for practitioners.
Competitive massage used as a public platform allows therapists from around the world to regain ownership of the legacies of their own cultural healing traditions and allows every massage therapist an opportunity to reflect on and reclaim the narrative of who they are and what they do. Furthermore, it has the potential to enhance the legitimacy of massage as a healthcare profession and sets apart those who take it seriously as a form of healing art. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by encouraging community and the spirit of open collaboration, it serves to connect massage professionals to each other and to the wider healthcare community. This can only help the massage industry grow and become more accepted as an integral part of healthcare.