A thought crossed my mind: Injury prevention research & purpose

19 Mar 2017 Posted by
I’ve just attended the 2017 IOC Conference on the Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport.

The biggest impact it made on me is the realization that we (researchers and practitioners in sport) have to share the messages more and more effectively.  I set this website up to do that, but under pressure from other work, my outputs here have waned.  I often feel that unless I can say something substantial, researched, linked extensively to other articles and research, I should instead say nothing.

In Monaco, I met and heard from enough people who persuaded me otherwise, and so rather than hitting you with 2000 word articles once every three months, I am going to try to share shorter, more frequent thoughts on the field of sports science, the news, and my own experiences.

These are “thoughts that crossed my mind”, whenever I have a moment.  I’ll try to flesh them out more when I can, but hope that these brief opinions will be of value too.

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A bigger purpose

“In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue—that is why academic politics are so bitter” – Wallace S. Syre

I heard that quote from Dr Simon Kemp last week, over one of many fabulous dinners in Provence (attributed to Henry Kissinger, but it seems many have said similar things).  It struck a chord because I’m sitting in the Nice airport about to fly back to London after the 2017 IOC Conference on injury prevention and sports medicine.

I’ve been involved in the sports injury world for a few years now, since I started consulting to World Rugby on their research strategy. Obviously, injury prevention in rugby, especially concussion, is a big focus, and so I’ve started to work with people in that space, rather than that “pure academic” research that looked at pacing, physiology and performance etc in my “former life” (or one of them anyway).

The reason it struck a chord is because my impression, two years into this new domain, confirmed this week in Monaco, is that it’s 100% true, and I know this because I was very guilty of the same things when I was studying fatigue and pacing.  In this world of injury prevention, I find there to be a much greater spirit of collaboration, a willingness to listen, to partner up and to set aside personal agendas.

I suspect the reason is that the stakes are a little higher – people who are genuinely invested in injury prevention and/or health have a purpose that is greater than themselves, and so the outcome takes on a greater importance.  It does not matter whose model is used, or how the journey is mapped from A to Z, only that Z has a lower risk of injury than A, or that people at Z are healthier than those at A.

This is of course a generalization, and the same micro-cliques exist in both worlds – performance/physiology and this injury/epidemiology world.

There are also frequent disagreements, which is not only normal, but productive, because as long as parties are willing to accept that they share an objective, those disagreements are catalysts for progress, improvement.  In contrast, the experiences I had from conferences on performance and physiology tended to be more adversarial. Disagreements produced a different outcome because there’s a zero sum game attitude where “My idea must be better because there’s only room for one theory on fatigue/Topic X”.

As I am at pains to emphasize, I made this error too, under the tutelage of Tim Noakes, and it’s the biggest regret I have from my pacing/performance research. Nevertheless, it’s almost a relief to be in a place where many people’s first response to something they don’t know is “How can this help my campaign to reduce X?”

The pursuit of status seems diminished to me, and it’s quite pleasant.

And that’s just a thought that popped into my mind this past week.

Ross