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Physio to the stars

BGS Old Boy Andrew Small ’01 has worked with everyone from Marvel superheroes to NBA players. He’s discussed the future of US tennis with John McEnroe and assisted professional teams and athletes across basketball, volleyball, golf, diving, American football, AFL and plenty more. It’s fair to say he’s an in-demand physiotherapist.

Beginning his BGS journey in Year 8 in 1997, Small brought a love of sport to the School. Competing in tennis and cricket initially, he took up volleyball in Year 11 and quickly excelled. After school he was selected in the Queensland volleyball team and played while studying Exercise Science and then Physiotherapy at The University of Queensland. While still playing, he doubled as a physiotherapist at the Queensland Academy of Sport.

“My days were quite hectic in those early post BGS years,” Small said. “I was working as a personal trainer in the mornings, then I’d go to the hospital to work in the neurosurgical ward at Mater Private as a physio. Then I’d do outpatient sports physiotherapy, before going to the QAS after that to work with their volleyball group.”

While travelling through America ahead of a European volleyball commitment, he received an offer to work in New York City. The opportunity proved too significant to resist and he took up a position with a private practice that included contract work with the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. Unable to shift opinion on the importance of long-term athletic development at the academy, Small left to build a physiotherapy clinic in Manhattan from scratch.

“It’s a high-end practice so the majority of my clientele were professional athletes, players from major sports teams, as well as business executives, actors, actresses and celebrities,” he said. “I consulted for Marvel Studios movies Dr Strange and Spider-Man, but New York City is one of those places where that’s just the norm. You get a really interesting mix of people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. In the end they’re just people in need of help.”

He was later asked to return to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on the promise he could revamp the performance department, which now forms an integral part of the academy. “It was challenging at times. But to see it now makes it all worthwhile. It’s not every day you get to work with John McEnroe and to have that opportunity was an amazing experience,” Small said.

“He was a brilliant tennis player with raw talent, but kids don’t necessarily grow up with raw talent so you have to develop their physical abilities to be ahead of the technical development. Being able to talk with McEnroe and his team on a daily basis was encouraging and sometimes stressful, but what we achieved at his academy was something very special.”

Small said the environment at BGS prepared him for challenges in his professional life. “I think some of what I learned at school, in sport or in the classroom, has had an impact on the way I think and address certain problems,” he said. “I believe that your experiences shape who you are and shape how you view things, so BGS definitely played a part in my professional development.”

His most recent position is with NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks, where he is the Senior Physiotherapist working as part of a 20-person performance team. With a 15-player payroll of $100 million, the stakes are high. “In the end you just have to do your job,” Small said. “It’s exciting and demanding at the same time but that’s part of the reason why we do it.”

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