Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

“It was a game of two halves” is one of the great sporting clichés, indicating that a match was going in one direction until the interval and then was very different in the second stanza. Often, this term is used quite liberally reflecting only a relative measure of what really took place. Rarely do I – not someone who watches a lot of sport on TV, apart from a rugby game or two a week – see this statement manifested entirely as the statement suggests. A couple of weeks ago I saw it, during the Heineken Cup Final between Northampton and Leinster, and it not only shocked me, but got me thinking about what we say to our team at the half, when we’ve got just a few minutes to either right the wayward ship or ensure that we keep it on course until the final whistle.

In short, if you didn’t see it, Northampton came out flying – against everyone’s predictions – and utterly dominated the Irish province. At one point, they even won a ball against the scrum when they had one less man in the pack! At halftime, with Northampton leading 22-6 (three tries to none) I thought, “That’s it. They’ve got Leinster’s number and just have to maintain this style of play [realising it’d be near impossible to keep up the tempo] until the final whistle.” Oh how I was wrong. Leinster started the second half much the same way Northampton did and scored early. Leinster never let up, preventing Northampton any chances to add to their tally and eventually ran home 33-22.

So what happened to both teams in the changing rooms at half time? I don’t know that answer, apart from saying: “It wasn’t enough” (for Northampton) or “It was bloody good” (for Leinster). Given the fact that Northampton offered nothing in the second half, and looked like a completely different team, I think it was more than just Leinster proving the pundits right and finally playing to their potential. But what does one say to a team at the half, regardless of the score, conditions, form book, etc. etc.? In what can be a ‘too short’ period, what sort of information needs to be gathered and what needs to be relayed?

Here’s what I do:

[Throughout the first half] Keep notes on what I think our strengths and weaknesses are, as well as any of theirs I have spotted. I try and have three very specific things to say, to keep confusion down to a minimum but also to ensure there is focus for the next half.

[As everyone gathers] Have players grab a drink bottle and get their attention. Ask how everyone’s feeling, and if there are any injuries / physical concerns I need to know about. (Refer to trainer, but keep them in the huddle if at all possible if there are any.)

[Team talk] Focus on strengths, threats, and opportunities; that is: the things we have done well, the things we need to be concerned about, and the things we need to focus on for the second half. I try as best I can to keep this information short and to the point – listing it as if I were typing bullet points. I don’t want players to be confused, don’t want to send mixed messages, and also don’t want to waste time.

[Feedback from the team] With adult teams I tend to invite important, specific feedback as to what’s going on out there, regarding both our performance and theirs. The understanding beforehand, however, is that it has to be concrete, relevant information and not just empty statements such as “we can do this” or “this is our game”, etc. This can take a bit of coaching, especially as I want all comments from players (as I do!) to be both positive and constructive, focusing not on generalities but on specifics. So it’s not good enough to say, “We need to make our tackles” but such a statement should instead sound like: “We need to take a step closer to the ball carrier and tackle, first, with our shoulders and then wrap up.” In such cases, focusing on the technique is a better way of making that key information stick inside their minds – especially with the time constraints. With kids, I do most of the talking, allowing maybe the team leaders to speak up if I trust their judgement and/or if there’s a particular leader whose insight I trust.  The point is, as I strive to be to-the-point with the information I relay, I do not want players to ruin that focus with a lot of empty chatter that can cause them to forget the important points.

[Individual feedback] Getting to this point can take half the time, or most if the ref is only giving us five minutes (for sevens, it’s basically just: “Is everyone okay? Here are the strengths, threats and opportunities” and we’re back on the pitch!). But I like to give the chance to assistant coaches to chat with their respective units, again dropping only short, specific and positive bits of information, and/or units to talk amongst themselves in such a way.

[Wrap-up and re-focus] If you’ve had a full ten minutes, I like to start this with about two minutes to go. I just want to re-iterate the important STOs (strengths, threats, opportunities) again so the team can take the pitch with those in mind. For some players, that will be enough – technical / tactical focus points for them to maintain throughout the second half. Many players, however, need an emotional / adrenaline charge to fire them up. I think it’s important to note, however, that not all players like this, so I don’t make a big deal about having everyone in the huddle. When I played, I preferred not to get ‘pumped up’, instead wishing to remain calm and focused. I’d still have a hand on the huddle to show solidarity, but would be nowhere near the middle of the huddle.

[Final minute or so] This is where I let the players do what they need to do to get ready for the second half. A moment alone, a little run, some one v one scrums, a few bag hits, etc. as they make their way to the field. Hopefully everything we needed to maintain will carry on, and that which we needed to address will be seen to. Setting a tempo is very important and the final message from the captain to the players should be that the first 10 should be the most important, possibly of the entire match … and this is exactly how Leinster took hold of that HEC final and played the second half on their terms.

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Today I was involved in a debate over what should happen to Harlequins’ team doctor over the so-called ‘Bloodgate’ scandal where she, on the request of a player (possibly management), made a small cut to a player’s lip so he could make a ‘legal’ substitution.  I won’t get into this issue specifically, but took the stance that a small reprimand should be made, but I didn’t think she should be as harshly penalised as some were demanding.  Why I started this post, though, was because I added that there are plenty more severe examples of players, management, and medical staff who do not take the right actions for athlete welfare all for the sake of ‘the game.’  One of the most serious of these is concussions.

I don’t want to mis-represent the realities and severity of concussions, so have added some official documentation below that provides proper answers to the big questions.  I think I can say, however, that a concussion involves trauma to the brain which impairs function either temporarily or over a longer term, caused by either direct or indirect forces (i.e. a blow to the head itself or force elsewhere that causes the head move forward with great force – remember, the brain is essentially floating around in your head and the protective fluid can be displaced in the forces are great enough).  For some, the symptoms and implications might only last a short period and recovery can be speedy, for others they may linger or be the symptom of a more severe injury.  (Again, note the documentation I’ve added for further – and quite excellent – information, but always consult medical expertise in person if you’re involved in such a situation!)

My issue with concussion management in rugby surrounds two areas:  the duty of care of people in dealing with injury, and taking steps to prevent such injuries.

1.  Duty of Care – Everyone involved with a contact sport from player, to management / coaching, to medical staff, to parents / family should take great care to inform themselves about concussion prevention and management.  This is information which really should be passed from the top down, with national unions taking a firm stance on requiring staff to attend courses on rugby safety.  I had to take a SmartRugby course in Australia, which is an annual in-person requirement for all coaches.  One of the best ideas I’ve heard in areas where medical staff aren’t as plentiful, is a concussion management card which can be given to the player / family member / etc. so that proper care might be taken in the crucial monitoring period after a suspected or actual concussion.

Our club also had some strong policies to take extra care, such as having all players take a simple paper test that showed a person’s ability to match letters with corresponding coded symbols.  Upon suspicion of a concussion, the team doctor would re-administer the test to see if the player was able to match their previous results.  This was something that could be done very quickly, on-site to give an idea of how severe the situation might be.  It also adhered to the IRB Medical guideline stating that a player who has suffered a concussion should not return to play for three weeks, and with written declaration from a medical practitioner.  Earlier return is possible when symptom free and with medical permission for adults, but the three-week lay off is mandatory for age-grade players.

It really annoys me to see, even at the highest level, players receiving a severe blow that has them staggering – even out cold! – and making a re-appearance to the field.  No game, no matter the level, is more important than one’s short / long term health and these players need to be taken off immediately.  Even in a case where replacements are no longer allowed, I’d rather us be a player down.  In the aforementioned debate, I brought up an example of an Australian rugby league player who was out before he hit the ground after getting hit in the back of the head with a ball.  I remembered yelling at the tv later on in the match when he actually returned to play!  (Video and evidence of him being back on the field below … and in trying to find it, I found an article where the player talked about his catalogue of injuries and how they’ve impacted his life now that he’s approaching retirement in his early 30s.)

Knocked out in the 51st minute and taken off, but on the receiving end of a penalty-worthy hit in the 76th minute.

2. Concussion Prevention – The other aspect I think coaches need to pay greater attention to is educating players on how to avoid / prevent concussion inducing incidents.  I think the first should occur even before anyone steps on a practice field – protective equipment.  It’s been proven that the lightly padded helmets do little if anything to protect the wearer from concussions.  (Studies can be found here and here. )  While I think they are useful for preventing cuts and small bumps, and for people with long hair to keep it out of the way, I always fear that many wearers feel it makes them impervious to serious injury and as such play with greater intensity than is needed.  I used to play (American) football, and this was definitely the case – I hear the same for ice hockey – the extra padding made you feel that you could put in big and bigger hits.  Rugby padding should not be seen in the same degree, and quite frankly, neither should football / hockey padding as the evidence of concussions there is as prevalent if not more!

Once on the field, coaches should take all the time that is necessary to ensure that all players can be safe on the field – which might even mean more for some athletes, just to be sure.  A small part of me felt bad in the past that I’ve prevented certain players from taking the field until later in the season for safety reasons.  In one case, we even felt someone shouldn’t play the entire season, but were welcomed to continue monitored training with us so that the person could acquire the necessary skills over time.  I’d like to see a study on the frequency of injury compared to time spent training and quality of instruction.  The tackle area is probably the most obvious, and I have posted plenty of topics on how to do it safely (note the tags at the side).  One of my biggest pet peeves in this area are players tackling too high, risking a clash of heads or ‘whip lash’ from not having the head braced against anything – cheek to (ass) ‘cheek’ as we say ensures the head is stable in contact.  The other annoyance I have is seeing players put their head in front of the body of the ball carrier – whether straight on or from the side.  Both are perfect ways to get a concussion, so it’s up to us to ensure players have enough practice in the proper technique to ensure they do not get into these situations.

More detail on managing concussions:

Concussion – A presentation by the medical advisor to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union

Concussion Sideline Management Intervention – a study from New Zealand which shows the results of proper first response management

Injury Management Guidelines – from the New Zealand Rugby Union, including both severe injuries and concussions, as well as return-to-play guidelines

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No quirky titles here, as this is a topic I’m always very serious about.  I’m pretty ‘famous’ as a rare non-drinking rugby guy among my friends and colleagues.  Drinking seemingly always has had a significant role in rugby’s social culture, and I’m not going to preach about the ‘evils of drink’ like some 1920s Temperance lobbyist, but there are some facts which I think athletes need to know to allow themselves the best opportunity to heal themselves and actually gain the best from their workouts (and, yes, the match should be considered a ‘work out’ – you probably do more work in a game than in any gym session).

Now I’m no scientist, so you probably won’t believe me if I started spouting facts, so I’ll let some authoritative websites do my talking for me.  Enjoy!  😉

“Alcohol and Athletes”

“In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, your body is deprived of a chemical called human growth hormone or HGH. HGH is part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body’s way of telling itself your muscle needs to grow bigger and stronger. Alcohol however can decrease the secretion of HGH by as much as 70%.

When alcohol is in your body, it triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is directly toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is essential for the development and recovery of your muscles. As alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine and into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel necessary for your muscles to contract.

Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is integral to optimal performance. On occasion when an athlete is injured and can’t perform they may see this as an opportunity to use alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin that travels through your bloodstream to every organ and tissue in your body, causing dehydration and slowing your body’s ability to heal itself.”

  • Consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one night can affect brain and body activities for up to three days
  • Two consecutive nights of drinking five or more alcoholic beverages can affect brain and body activities for up to five days.
  • Attention span is shorter for periods up to forty-eight hours after drinking.
  • Even small amounts of alcohol BAC of .03 can persist for a substantial period of time after the acute effects of alcohol impairment disappear.

From:  Office of Drug and Alcohol Education – University of Notre Dame


“Alcohol and Australian Sport”

Short-term Effects

• Alcohol causes dehydration — Alcohol is widely reported as causing dehydration. This statement is true to a point, however it is largely dependent on the concentration of the alcoholic drink being consumed. Concentrated drinks such as spirits consumed in small glasses or shots, full-strength beers and wine will result in a net fluid loss. However low-alcohol choices such as mid-strength beers and spirits served in large glasses with a non-alcoholic mixer may actually assist athletes to rehydrate following exercise.
• Binge drinking exacerbates soft tissue injury — Soft tissue injury management requires reducing blood flow to the area in order to contain the injury. Consuming alcohol has the opposite effect.  It increases blood flow to the area, which is likely to extend recovery time following injury.
• Slower decision-making — It becomes fairly obvious that after a few drinks your ability to react and make correct decisions is impaired. This may increase your risk of serious injury from an accident or being involved in a brawl.

… having a night out with friends is a fact of life, but if nothing else you should be smart about having fun.  If you have picked up an injury, it should be avoided for the reasons cited above.  If you absolutely must, keep it to a minimum in the best interests of your own development and health to ensure you recover as best as possible.   Knowing this reality, the Aussies have some great tips on ‘surviving a night out with mates.’

From: Australian Institute of Sport


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