Why is managing injury risk important for team success?

When working with sports teams, you meet a mixture of people working within the management and administration of the club/county. As it is still firmly an amateur organisation, the clubs and counties still rely heavily on the volunteerism that has built the foundation of the GAA, and please God may this never change! These people have a mixture of skills and experiences that make the GAA so unique to our country and culture. Everyone has different backgrounds that make trying to mesh an amateur ethos and drive with the professional demands needed to compete at inter-county and club levels easier. And yes, not only are inter-county setups extremely professional, a lot of clubs are following closely. Managers and coaches are extremely ambitious nowadays and want to create the most professional setups in the country.
And so often Physiotherapists, Strength and Conditioning Coaches and other related professionals are greeted with a mixed reaction within different setups, depending on people’s past experiences. Some are lauded as essential and necessary for continued success on the pitch, while some are greeted with a mixture of suspicion at our role within the team. We have all been in that situation, when you meet a coach or manager who doesn’t understand what your skillset involves, what you can do to help a team succeed. Physiotherapists are seen as giving out “rubs” and S & C professionals are seen as “doing the gym”. And while these may have been our role historically, we have moved on well from this! We have greater skillsets than this and we can heavily influence both the welfare and performance of the athletes we come in contact with.
And so like any profession I believe we should justify our roles within these groups:
  • Are we addressing intrinsic/extrinsic factors that may influence injury risk?
  • Are we putting in injury prevention programmes that have been proven to reduce rate of injuries?
  • Do we use the most up to date methods of preparing our players for their performance demands?
  • Are we continually up-skilling and increasing our knowledge?
  • Are we educating the people who make the important decisions on best practices?
These are all questions that we should be continually asking ourselves when working in these environments. So how do we justify our role first and foremost? What is the one thing every coach and manager puts the most weight on when making decisions? What can they not ignore. They are all striving for the same thing.
Success.
And while talent is important.
We know that team success is heavily influenced by player availability.
In this study by Hagglund et al. (2013) they looked at the injury incidence and injury burden on performance measures in soccer. What made this study unique is that the clubs that participated included the likes of Barcelona, Manchester Utd etc. So massive clubs at the elite level! And over an 11 year period they found that a team that had both decreased injury rates and injury severity compared with the preceding season had a statistically better chance of improved team performance, based on final league standing and league points per match. This is massively important!
The study concluded that the “association between injuries and performance is probably one of the most important messages to convey to management and coaching staff, as well as to other stakeholders in clubs, in order to continue to improve medical services for the players and to increase efforts to prevent injuries”.
Therefore, while we can’t prevent every injury, there is no magic bullet! We can use the best of our knowledge and our understanding of the science out there, how to put in programmes to help reduce the injury risk.
Read the data out there. Collect your own data. React to the data if needed.
Put into place some high quality injury reduction programmes.
Work as a team within the medical and performance department.
Help each other. Don’t let egos clash.
You should have a common goal. Work together to make it happen.
Thomas Divilly
Chartered Physiotherapist, MISCP, CSCS

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