Chelsea Lane is the director of physical performance and sports medicine for Oakland-based NBA team, the Golden State Warriors. She talks to us about work, play, and staying at the top of her game.
When did you decide to pursue a career in sports physio?
I loved sport as a kid. I spent most of my childhood assuming that, one day, I would go to the Olympics, although during my teenage years it became apparent that I was perhaps more of a scholar than an athlete. I enjoyed science and problem solving, and I knew that sports physios could get access inside the Olympic Village, so working towards that goal seemed like a solid plan.
How did you get your current job?
It’s a slightly embarrassing story. I was working for High Performance Sports New Zealand as the lead sports physio for Athletics New Zealand. We were a few weeks out from the Athletics World Champs in Beijing when I received an email from a team called the Golden State Warriors asking if I would talk with them about a role they were creating. I replied asking for more information about what sport the team played and at what level. Given they had just won the NBA Championship and had some of the most recognisable athletes on the planet playing for them, I was perhaps the only person in the Western World who had never heard of them. But I guess my NBA ignorance was forgiven, because a few weeks later I was wrapping up my role in Beijing, and moving my life to the USA.
Describe your job…
It encompasses a few different roles. I oversee the physical performance staff – that’s our team’s athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches – to ensure we have a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to each athlete’s physical preparation plans. I am also responsible for the injury prevention and injury management plans for each athlete. Despite being a team, there isn’t a blanket approach for the group. Each athlete has an individualised management plan specific to their needs and their potential health/injury risks. Some athletes need more intervention at a nutritional/supplementation level, some need a cryotherapy programme, some need regular manual therapies, some need biomechanical direction and retraining, some need interventions to improve their sleeping habits. My job is to work out who needs what and then make sure they have the tools to reduce their risk to injury and illness, and ultimately improve their physical performance. And finally, if the worst thing happens and, despite all those plans to prevent injury, someone breaks something, my job is to put them back together – and then coordinate the performance staff to facilitate their return to play.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
The over-arching purpose of my role is to maximise athlete availability for my coaching team. That means I need to keep as many athletes healthy so that they are available to be on court for tomorrow’s game, next week’s game, for the play-offs at the end of the season and as the coach sees fit to use them. Given the incredible number of games we play in a season and the amount of travel we do to get to each one, it is an enormous professional challenge! It’s also tough spending time so much time away from my husband and friends (and Auckland’s west coast beaches!). Oh, and finding somewhere to get changed and go to the loo in an all male locker room!
What are the biggest rewards?
I love the process of trying to solve an athlete’s problem in the fastest time possible. I thrive on the pressure of having zero time to work out what’s going on and how to get that athlete functioning again. The biggest reward is when you get it right, it’s a feeling that makes my job impossibly enjoyable.
What’s it like being part of such a high-profile scene?
Your successes and failures are felt so much more acutely because they are broadcast to the world. In the USA, professional sport is akin to a religion, and I am working with the demigods of that religion, so everyone with an internet connection has an opinion on subjects ranging from how effectively I’m doing my job….to how I do my hair. Fortunately, I don’t have a presence on social media and I don’t a TV connection, so I’m rarely exposed to public opinion unless it’s yelled at me from the bleachers. I also know the only people I am truly accountable to are my head coach, my general managers, my athletes and myself.
To what extent does your job influence how you act in your personal life?
My job is my life, rightly or wrongly. I cant separate the two. That’s how it is when you’re a health professional, and it’s certainly how it is when you are privileged enough to work in elite sport. In this particular role I perhaps feel the responsibility of that crossover more acutely because I am a woman working in an all male environment. I can’t afford to behave in a fashion that might invite others to question my professionalism or the ability of a woman to handle the role. I feel a huge responsibility to myself and my family, my athletes, my profession and to women who want to pursue a similar career not to mess this up!
Tell us about the perks of working for the NBA…
The food is amazing (I eat at least two meals a day with the team) and I get a lot of free shoes.
What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened?
Being stopped in the street by a Warriors fan who knew my name and wanted me to sign their hat. Gobsmacking! I thought that’s the fastest way to lessen the value of a perfectly good hat, so I declined their kind request.
How do you think your friends and family perceive your job?
I think if you asked my mother she might tell you it’s just another one of Chelsea’s jobs that gets in the way of family Christmases and birthday gatherings. I imagine she is still hoping I might grow up and get a proper job like a normal 40 year old woman, bless her! Sometimes I do feel a little envious of people whose work lives allow them to do things like schedule a haircut in advance, or attend a regular weekly yoga class, or get to the post office to buy stamps. But on the flip side, I get to do what I love at the highest level it can be done every day. It’s a fair trade from where I sit.