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WHY THE ELITE SPORT INJURY MANAGEMENT MODEL DOESN'T WORK AT A GRASSROOTS LEVEL
5 - minute read
We all have heroes.
People who inspire us to be the best we can, or who have shown us what is possible.
Often, we’ll copy our idols in the hope that a little bit of their magic will rub off on us.
And in sport, our elite athletes’ performances give us a sense of belonging to our country or club, a sense of pride if they’re doing well and they inspire others to take part in sport and be their best.
It’s powerful stuff.
But there’s one thing we shouldn’t be copying our idols for… and that’s injuries.
Because elite sport is usually open to a lot more privileges than us mere mortals at the grassroots level.
They have opportunities that are available to them that we just don’t have.
Here are just a few:
Elite sport has the privilege of being able to select from a huge pool of professionals to create the best team they can. They’ll interview for Physios, Strength Coaches, Sports Coaches, Doctors, Psychologists and more. These professionals are specifically selected for their skill set and the contribution they can bring to the team supporting the athletes.
It doesn’t work like that at a grassroots level.
If participants at this level get injured, they either have to find someone who is within a suitable travelling radius to treat their injuries (who may or may not know anything about the sport), or they have to wait to be allocated one via the health service.
The chances of this individual understanding, or even being interested in, the demands of a particular sport are very slim, and the chances of them having time to talk to the grassroots coach (who may or may not know anything about injuries) is also very limited – and that’s assuming they’re even interested in doing so.
At an elite level, every professional is working towards the same goal… to help the athlete perform. It’s likely that they’ll all understand a little of what the others are trying to achieve and over time, will learn how each other likes to work. This makes communication very easy.
Again, it doesn’t work like that at a grassroots level.
If a grassroots athlete attends multiple sessions in a week, they might have a handful of different coaches. If they’re lucky enough to be able to pay, they might have a private coach. In both private and public healthcare systems, they might be seen by a handful of different therapists depending on how busy the clinic is.
This makes it difficult for any kind of collaboration because each professional may have different goals. For example, the coaches might be trying to prepare the athlete for an important match, or race, coming up whereas the therapist might be focused entirely on the body, completely dismissing the importance or even relevance of the sport.
This also puts the onus on the grassroots athlete themselves to decide who to involve, how long they are involved for and to coordinate those people to get the best outcome. This should NOT be the athlete’s responsibility!
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Many elite sports (especially the ones we see in the media) have some kind of funding that pays for the support team, amongst other things. This can mean that the team is on-hand, on location, whenever they are needed – available exclusively for those elite athletes. Treatment is often given for as long as the athlete needs it.
Once again, it doesn’t work like that at grassroots level.
If a grassroots athlete is using the healthcare system or private insurance, they may be allocated a specific number of sessions, within which time the issue may or may not be fixed. They are matched against criteria that determine whether the injury is “bad enough” to warrant treatment in the first place and once they hit specific milestones, they are discharged, often left to continue the rest of the healing by themselves.
If they are lucky enough to be able to pay for private treatment, the funds come out of their own pocket and they still must wait in line for appointments that suit the therapist, not the athlete.
If an elite athlete is full-time, it is their JOB to do everything they can to perform at the highest level. This means that they have time to dedicate to rehab/prehab exercises before and after training, and at multiple times during the day.
You guessed it, it doesn’t work like that at grassroots level.
When we factor in school, work, family life, and other responsibilities on top of training, the grassroots athlete doesn’t have as much time to dedicate to helping with their own treatment – or often the incentive, to deal with the smaller issues which means that these small issues often only get half treated, or completely ignored, which increases the likelihood of more injuries.
In many cases, the grassroots system learns from what is working well for the elite end of their sport and this gets watered down so that some of it can be applied to the benefit of more people.
And sometimes this approach works really well.
But for injuries, this approach simply doesn’t work, and it should not be replicated in exactly the same way that it is at the elite level.
Elite sport can afford to have separate specialisms for each individual. Grassroots cannot.
That’s why I created Injury Hacking.
Injury Hacking simplifies injury and looks for the opportunities for every coach, in every sport, at every level to get involved, regardless of their injury knowledge.
This means that grassroots coaches can develop the skills to see potential injuries coming BEFORE they become painful. They can use simple, non-painful movement to reduce the joint restrictions that lead to pain and they can develop resilience in their participants’ bodies to make them less likely to struggle with the minor aches and pain that eventually stop them training.