Looking back at the week: Pat Lambie’s concussion-retirement, and introducing “My most interesting” links you may like

25 Jan 2019 Posted by

Ok so let’s recap the week, and some stuff I missed. It was a busy one, so I didn’t write much, but what I did do was:

  1. I did a talk for Arsenal Football club’s HP team, and spoke about the role of sports science in the elite environment. I think sports science has under-delivered, because it is too operational, too myopic, and misses its own strategic & tactical importance. It’s more about the process & system of thinking, which means good people do it better than most sports scientists. I shared that presentation and concepts on Wednesday.
  2. Preventing injuries in sport is difficult. When laws change, they often achieve the opposite – an unintended outcome of trying to improve the spectacle is that it compromises safety. On Thursday I wrote a little about about that

Stuff I didn’t write about – Pat Lambie’s concussion induced retirement

Speaking of injuries, sad news when Pat Lambie announced his retirement due to persistent concussion symptoms. At only 28, no less. Lambie, for those not in the know, was one of South Africa’s most exciting rugby prospects when he emerged as a teenager, but his career has been cut short by a sequence of concussions, each seemingly worse than the previous one, and eventually, he said “I have not been able to do any weight sessions in the last two and a half months because I had a terrible headache. I followed the advice of two neurologists. They advised me to stop rugby”

Very sad for him. He, and others like him, are a reminder of the purpose of all the efforts to prevent injury, especially concussion. They give names and personalities to what would otherwise be faceless, bland data. We absolutely have to keep the head out of the sport, or at least minimize impacts to it as much as possible.

On the issue of these persistent concussion symptoms, a few brief thoughts. I’m no neurologist, and I will absolutely not drive outside of my lane here, but I do just want to bring to your attention that this area of persistent symptoms after concussion is a fascinating and extremely challenging one – why do some people recover, even after multiple head injuries, and others do not?

It’s a growing concern in contact sports, and at the Berlin Concussion Consensus Conference, an entire session was devoted to discussing evidence for why it happens and how it should be managed. Unsurprisingly, given the “newness” of the issue to sport, and the complexity of these conditions, it didn’t really conclude anything particularly strongly.

Looking beyond sport, where there are far more brain injuries to drive the need to improve treatment, there are firmer and evolving ideas, some of which are very interesting. For example, and here’s some recommended reading for you if you’re interested:

The implication of this growing body of work is that sport may need to adapt its method of treatment. From the same review I mentioned earlier:

In any event, it is clearly a hugely complex area, and concussions happening during sport are the triggering/inciting event, so the specific means by which symptoms persist is, at least from the perspective of the player, a relatively academic discussion. That player needs the best possible treatment, and it’s up to the clinical world to deliver that.

Lambie is young enough, and by all reports, capable enough to take his life in half a dozen different directions, and I hope he’s able to make a huge success of it, no matter which way he goes. We must keep trying to prevent more such cases


Most interesting sports science paper I saw last week

I thought what I would do at the end of each week is share a “Most Interesting” selection with you, on a range of topics. So to kick off, this is the most interesting sports science paper I saw last week:

The Reliability of 4-Minute and 20-Minute Time Trials and Their Relationships to Functional Threshold Power in Trained Cyclists, by Martin MacInnis, Aaron Thomas and Stuart Phillips, IJSPP.

I pick it because it’s easy for anyone to apply. You could do this on your Watt bike at the gym. Basically, they wanted to see how accurately and reliably a 4-min and a 20 min cycling time-trial could predict 60 min cycling performance (FTP), so they had trained cyclists do two of each, and one 60-min TT, and looked at the relationship between them. They find that a combination of 4-min and 20-min TT is a pretty reliable predictor of FTP, as shown below:

I like the practical nature of it. Sure, it used only 8 cyclists, which is small. And you can certainly question whether this is as relevant in a moderately trained rider (as most of us are – we don’t all have VO2maxes of 71 ml/kg/min like the cyclists in this study!), for whom their might be a ‘deficit’ in endurance, such that 4-min and 20-min performance over-estimates the 60-min capability.

But it’s nice research, because it translates well, so have a look at the paper and see if you can apply it. There are some other studies in that same edition of the journal that look intriguing, but then you read them and think “Cool, but how the hell do I apply this?”


Most interesting sports story I saw last week

In keeping with my week, in which we met some senior people from the NFL to discuss player safety and concussion, I read an interesting article this week about how American football lags behind baseball and basketball in its use of ‘analytics’, but that significant advances have been made in recent years.

The article is actually from December last year, but I just came across it recently. It’s pretty interesting. Last week, at Arsenal, I saw a little of how they analyze teams and players, and the volume of data that is collected, processed and then interpreted is dizzying. It’s cutting-edge stuff, but I reckon if you don’t have your wits about you and use the data with some kind of sensible model or framework, it would become overwhelming very quickly and would without doubt become a performance hindrance, rather than an aid. So have a read of that piece, it’s not bad.


Most interesting non-sports story I read last week

Because why not? It can’t all be about sport.

I read a pretty interesting story about how vets are appealing to pet owners to stop feeding their pets grain-free foods. Apparently they’re concerned about health effects this may have.

The whole ‘food allergy’, low-carb, paleo, no grain etc movement has developed a religious fervour among humans. It’s full of high priests, converts, ‘bibles’ and doctrines. So I suppose it’s not surprising that it has spilled over into cats and dogs. But anyway, it was interesting to read how that world is dealing with similar issues, and a range of organizations are trying to release position statements to discourage what may be unhealthy obsessions with health! One such example:

Pet food marketing has outpaced the science, and owners are not always making healthy, science-based decisions even though they want to do the best for their pets.”

You could just as well write that for homo sapiens…!


A cheeky call for donations

Lastly, if I might be so brazen, I’m quite enjoying writing these short thoughts – they force me to think more deeply about things, and I find that stimulating. It was, after all, my intention in “leaving Twitter”.

I hope you find them as interesting to read. I promise they’ll get shorter over time! If you do, and you’d like to donate, that would be great. You can donate $20 (or a different amount) here, and I’d be most grateful. If not, I’ll keep going regardless!

Thanks, have a great weekend!


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