Player workload is one of the biggest issues facing the game and a working group between International Rugby Players and World Rugby has been set up help find solutions.
Welshman Jamie Roberts, who played 94 times for his country as well as representing the British and Irish Lions on two tours, is on the working group along with some of sports’ top medical experts.
The qualified doctor, who’s currently playing with Bath in the English Premiership, spoke to us about why it’s important to get this right.
Q: Jamie, how would you define “player load”?
JR: “Load encompasses everything a rugby player has to deal with; the physical and mental demands on a player over a training week, cumulative throughout the season. The fan sees the 80 minutes at the weekend, but the load on the player is obviously far more significant than that.
Coaches want to pick their best players and it’s more likely they are going to play the most minutes during a season. However, while looking at player welfare, we have to look to manage players’ loads effectively and, more importantly, minimise the risk of injury.
Most sport scientists in clubs around the world are pretty clued in to load management and know when a player is at high risk of getting injured and can pull back on players accordingly. So, I suppose it’s about trying to understand where the risks are, what groups of players are at risk and at what point does significant load pose a risk to a player.”
Q: Do you think players are playing and training too much and is the load too much sometimes?
JR: “It’s very difficult to know. You have playing and training load and outside the game you have “life-load”, which is very hard to quantify.
There are different loads placed upon different individuals. Some players might have a family, some players might be in university, some might have to travel longer distances to work… there are a lot of stresses and strains that come with a player’s lifestyle, as there would be with any other job. So, it’s hard to quantify life-load and put a measurement beside it. It probably should be managed subjectively.
As regards playing too much rugby? As a playing group, we should set up some guidelines that attempts to minimise the risk of injuries.
We sat down again today with @WorldRugby & top medical experts to discuss one of the biggest issues in the game: Playing and Training workload.
Former All Black Conrad Smith says having the players' voice at the table is a positive move: pic.twitter.com/Zmvt3Pv1qB
— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) August 8, 2018
When I talk about “at-risk players”, it’s often players with multiple demands and by that, I mean international players that go from playing for their clubs straight into international commitments.
But there are also younger players to bear in mind, as they are an at-risk group. They might be academy players or younger players on the brink of first team rugby who are regularly exposed to multiple environments, who train with the first team all week, then train with their clubs on Tuesday and Thursday night, then play on a Saturday before returning to the professional environment… and repeating that over again.
Ultimately that increased load is going to put that player at increased risk of injury. We have to gauge that effectively and manage that.
I think the goal that International Rugby Players and World Rugby are trying to reach is basic, general guidelines about to how to manage players in the professional game.”
Q: So, there’s no magic number here? This is more about creating guidelines than a “silver bullet” to solve the load issue?
Part of load management is about how a player feels. In a lot of the environments I’ve played and trained in, you do your questionnaires most mornings – how you’re feeling, if you’re tight in certain areas, if you’ve slept well, if you have aches and pains etc. A doc or physio will crunch those numbers and if they feel you’re in risk territory, they’ll pull you from sessions.
Often that’s not ideal in the professional sphere, but the bigger picture is – how do we keep players fit, healthy and performing optimally to last the season?”
Q: What about getting the buy-in from clubs and unions if and when consensus is reached?
JR: “There’s gotta be consensus.
But don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with intense, tough and challenging training sessions… it’s about training smartly and effectively.
The last thing we want to see is players doing every training session, playing every match, burning themselves out and exposing them to an increased risk of injury and therefore shortening careers. We want players to play the professional game as long as they can.
There will be general guidelines put out and they aim to educate. Not every club is going to follow them as many clubs employ sport scientists who know the players, but these guidelines need to make coaches and performance staff aware of training load and management.”
Q: You talked about “training smart.” Is this something that players can be helped with?
JR: “Players want to train as hard and as much as you can, especially when you’re younger and you don’t quite understand your body. As you get older you know your body a bit better. I think sometimes, for the health of the player, the decision (about playing and training) has to be taken out of their hands.
Players want to improve all the time; these guidelines (when they’re agreed) will help educate coaches and performance staff about where to draw the line with players and when to pull back in training.
It goes back to my original point – it’s about minimising the risk on the player. These guidelines will be important – they will hopefully be concise, clear and ultimately educate the player as well.”
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