The World Conference on Sports Physical Therapy was held at the magnificent Titanic Centre in Belfast recently. The 2 day conference was based around the topic of Optimal Loading. This basically translates as the optimum amount of training required to reach specific performance levels while minimising negative outcomes. Negative outcomes can manifest in the form of injury, physical fatigue, mental fatigue or under-performing. Managing Optimal Load is approached from several angles. Including managing the injured athlete, rehabilitation and sport-specific conditioning for recovery, injury prevention and achieving performance.
All 3 speakers talked about their role in managing players at their respective clubs. With a view to avoiding negative outcomes of training by what they referred to as ‘improving player robustness.’ They explained that in order for players to be able to play at the top level. They had to show that they can cope with the various demands of training at the top level. In order to achieve the desired outcomes of that level of a sport. They talked about the need for resilience and resistance to injury as opposed to players who are both physically and mentally weak and prone to injury.
I can think of several words some use to describe the ‘unrobust’ player – soft, milky, flaky. Pampered being some examples I’ve heard over the years. I recall a Sports Psychologist once noting that in his experience, one of the traits of top athletes was their ability to tolerate pain. This is not confined to the pain of straining a muscle. More so across the spectrum of demands of the sport. The pain of hard training, the pain of pushing yourself to the limit, the pain of losing, the pain of suffering any setback.
Tony Strudwick from Manchester United even went as far as saying that:
Robustness (or lack of) is something for us to be wary of in the GAA. Some people will be of the opinion that robustness is ‘just in ye’. However, the experts from Man United, Liverpool and Derby all stated that they were aiming to improve player robustness. Almost like saying they were toughening players up to the demands of the sport. One of the easiest ways of judging robustness is to look at the number of games a player plays either consecutively or over the course of a season. This is one of the main factors when professional clubs are considering signing a new player.
As inter-county managers head into the new season (never mind the training ban in place for a phenomenon once known as burn-out). They need to be aware of Optimal Loading and realise that they CAN develop player robustness. Trials will be the normal procedure in various counties. To see who will join the already established players of previous county squads. These established players will have built up a robustness to the demands of county training over many years. So new players striving to train at the optimum level required to play inter-county football need time to develop their robustness. They need time to reach the optimum level. This requires managers not picking players so far off the mark in terms of their present fitness that they will require too much time and 1:1 attention to catch up with others.
It requires a sensibly designed, progressive training programme that allows players time for their body to adapt physically to the demands of a new level of exercise. It requires an experienced Medical back room team who are able to spot the early signs of injury risk, underperformance, under-fit, overtrained situations. A good medical team will know that Muscles like to be strong to cope with these demands. Tendons don’t like a sudden change in demand. As for older players (30+), joints suffer from the accumulative trauma of long-term high level, high impact exercise.
I’d like to know how many counties take into consideration player robustness in their underage Development squads. How many managers are training young people with a view to improving robustness so they are more resilient and resistant to injury, underperformance, physical and mental demands of sport at higher levels further down the line.
Hence an experienced Physiotherapist is crucial to building player robustness from both the physical and mental aspects of the sport for the benefits of the player and manager. At higher levels of sport, this robustness can be monitored and developed using a team of experts who monitor their respective interests including Strength and Conditioning experts, psychologists, physiologists, and doctors.
So robustness is not ‘just in ye’ from previous life experiences. In can be harnessed when dealt with by the right people.