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Season Recap - Karen Nichol tells about her experience with the Vancouver Warriors.

Updated: Jun 2

We sat down with Karen Nichol earlier this week to discuss her first season with the Vancouver Warriors. If you have been following Karen's work with the team or are a new physiotherapist looking to work athletes or athletic teams this interview is full of great insights.

Overall how was your first season with the Vancouver Warriors? 

I would have to say extremely busy and exciting. I was really excited to come on board with the new coach and GM Curt Malawsky and see what we could do to make the Warriors more successful.  I would like to think we did a good job in achieving this.  We had a really strong second half of the season, going on a big winning streak, but the organization did a great job of getting fans out and really getting Vancouver excited about this team. The Warriors had record attendance which I think had a lot to do with the Warriors marketing team and creating a great atmosphere with country nights, Marvel super hero night, Saint Paddy's day party etc.  For a lot of young people, the games became a great way to go out and have fun with a group of friends at an exciting sporting event for a really reasonable price. It was really fun to watch our crowds grow as the season went on!


What was the main highlight from the 2023-2024 Season? 

The highlight for me, by far, was really turning the season around at the end of the year. We had so many close call losses throughout the season that were extremely hard to swallow.  At the end of the season however we went six wins out of our last seven games and we were gunning for a playoff spot. The last time the Warriors made the postseason was seven years ago so it was exciting to see the team really click and the chemistry come together to put them in a contender position. The guys truly believed in each other, and they trusted in the playing systems that Curt wanted them to run, so it was really rewarding to see all their efforts and determination finally start to pay off.


Do you feel like your role as part of the medical staff contributed to the team's success this year?

All I would say is that, I think between all of our medical team, we did a really good job of keeping a healthy roster on the floor.  I think we were fortunate in not having a ton of injuries this season and were able to keep our starting guys in the lineup consistently.  You can’t win if you don’t have the guys on the floor and I think it was a true team effort in achieving this to give us the best opportunity to stay in the battle for the playoffs.

Were there any challenges of this new role that surprised you?

So I’ve worked with many lacrosse teams over the years and had an idea of what my role would entail. Being a lead physiotherapist I knew I would be in charge of the rehab for these players and in trying to keep them as healthy as possible but stepping into this role with a professional team is a bit of a different beast. As lead physio your role is to ensure that all parts of the wheel (medical team and management) have full visibility on any medical concerns with our players. I think I may have underestimated how much of a transition it would be.  Being the quarterback for the medical team and the Warrior players while also needing to do this for my team and patients at Royal City Physio was pretty hectic. The season starts with preseason medicals followed by several weekends of training camp in November with the official season kicking off at the start of December. We play eighteen games in twenty-one weeks with half of these games on the road, so those five months are extremely busy.  However, November to April also coincided with a super busy time at the clinic, so my multi-tasking skills were put to the ultimate test.


What new skills from your Head Physiotherapist Role do you feel you are bringing back to the clinic? 

I would say before this role I thought I was a good multi-tasker, but now I have improved that skill set quite a bit haha. I oversee anything to do with the Warrior players medically, so I am in constant communication with our coach/GM, director of operations, all of our medical team staff and our players. The emails, reports, phone calls and meetings are constant throughout the season on top of being in the clinic doing rehab with our players. There is never a dull moment, I am always looking at what is next on my list or how I can streamline my workflow.

I would also like to think that my communication skills have improved. Working for an organization like the Warriors, your communication with management, players and staff needs to be really transparent, honest, concise, and professional.  Decisions often need to be made quickly and these decisions need to be communicated with honesty and transparency.  

I think this skill has been great for the clinic as well. As a business owner, knowing how to be more articulate, professional, honest, and accountable is only going to benefit the business, the staff and your clients.


What advice would you give a new physiotherapists wanting to work with athletes or athletic teams?

The number one priority should be to volunteer lots and volunteer everywhere. You never know where it will lead you when you help out with any team whether it’s grassroots,  amateur or professional.  It’s really important for people to become involved. If you are a new physio looking to build a practice, make sure you volunteer in an area close to you, especially with grassroots or amateur organizations. It’s a great way to learn and for the community to gain trust in you. The ripple effect of even just helping out with a minor sports team is massive. The players, their families and friends will all start to come see you. It’s unbelievable the effect that you have once you link up with a team and start showing up and meeting these players and their families. So many therapists try to gain and retain patients by doing online videos or blogs but the power of just showing up to help and care for these athletes far exceeds what any online campaign can do for your practice. 

If you want to step your game up, get involved with collegiate teams or higher-level amateur contact sports like hockey, rugby, wrestling, lacrosse or football.  For young physios, it is important to shadow a senior therapist, whether they are an AT, a physio, or any of the medical roles that work with contact sport. In just one practice or game with a senior therapist, you can learn the equivalent of 3 months in the classroom. From on-field assessments, to acute and chronic injury management, right through to taping techniques, you see so much within two hours on the field with contact sports. It will really fast-track your learning curve.


Did you get your start by volunteering? 

Yes, I started out volunteering with the Kats Rugby Club. They were a premier rugby club at the time. A couple of physios a year ahead of me at UBC asked if I would come out and help. Two of us from our class went out and I stayed with the club for several years. It was such a steep learning curve. I didn’t have the advantage of having a senior therapist with me. I really had to learn on the fly which was definitely tricky in a contact sport like rugby. In my first game with the Kats, we had a dislocated shoulder, a forehead ripped open for twenty stitches with an accompanying concussion and several other knocks and subs for blood injuries. I had no choice but to learn quickly and become efficient at managing acute injuries, multiple injuries and  emergency situations. You quickly learn how to remain calm amidst a background of complete chaos. So I helped out with rugby for a few years and then I ended up with lacrosse. I feel those early years with an intense sport like rugby really helped me become a better physio during intense moments both on and off the floor with a professional team.


What does your job entail during the off-season? 

My number one job and priority is getting any players with chronic injuries or ongoing injuries healthy for the upcoming season.  My goal is to have our players as healthy and fit as possible for the start of training camp. 

Additional tasks will involve a lot of administrative work, particularly in terms of communicating with the medical staff to provide updates or input on player injuries. I communicate with our strength and conditioning coach regarding summer programs.  I follow-up and check in with all the players that live both in town and out of town, to see how their rehab or strength and conditioning programs are going over the summer. I meet with new players coming onboard to do physical exams and ensure they are also doing what’s required to be ready for training camp.  There is constant communication between myself, coach/GM and operations about plans for the upcoming season and ensuring we are ready to roll for training camp in November. 

I am fortunate to have a lot of our team live here in Vancouver, quite rare for an NLL team. A lot of the players are able to come to the clinic for treatment during the off-season which is great. I really feel lucky that if a player is struggling with something, he can pop in to see me or one of our other medical staff usually within 24 hours.


What are you most looking forward to for next season? 

This may sound a bit cliche, but what I am looking forward to the most, is seeing all of our team again, from all the players to our staff. I truly enjoyed working and travelling with this group.   I am really looking forward to having us all together again and seeing us build on the momentum and chemistry that we started to gain in the second half of the season. I’ve got a really great feeling about this upcoming season and I think we are going to surprise a lot of people. People saw us finish strong this season, but I feel like our true potential was only starting to be revealed. Next year is going to be an exciting one for the Warriors!


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