I’m not sure if anyone has seen the video of the Northampton Saints player Calum Clark’s ‘challenge’ on the leicester player Rob Hawkins that broke his elbow. Hawkins is likely to spend a lot of time on the sidelines as a result and, with most of his limited club appearances being from the bench, could even be looking at an end to his time at Leicester.
Clark’s challenge was cynical in the extreme and was serving no purpose, particularly as it happened after the whistle. I think that Hawkins would be well within his rights to take legal action against Clark if it has a detrimental affect on his career and earnings, he has been stripped of his ability to play and compete for his place in the Leicester team.
I’ve played a lot of rugby, it’s a physical sport and am more than aware that fights break out and cheap shots happen. However, when these cause serious injury, the person guilty is culpable. If this happened at the amateur level to someone who, for example, was a serving police constable and was unable to fulfil his duties as a result, I would expect charges to be pressed. A friend of mine lost teeth when someone took a 20m run up and punched him during a scuffle that didn’t involve him. These incidents need to be stamped out and a long ban for Clark would send the correct message out to players at all levels. This type of behaviour isn’t welcome in the game.
I read today about Harry Ellis, the Leicester Tigers and England scrum half who was forced to retire from rugby due to a succession of knee injuries. It must be a huge emotional blow to know that you can no longer do what you’ve been training to do for the majority of your life. I also read a piece on an interview with Barry Everitt (here) who expressed his feelings on the lack of preparation of young athletes for how to cope if the worst does happen.
Professional football and rugby clubs nationwide run academy structures, many of which will take on athletes full time with an eye to developing them for an eventual place in the 1st team or selling on to bigger clubs. Many of these athletes commit full time and withdraw themselves from education, often encouraged by family and friends, to pursue this goal. Inevitably, a number don’t make the grade or become injured and as such have to adjust to life without their sport, try to forge a career in the lower leagues or, in the case of UKsport’s pitch to podium scheme, attempt to make it in another sport. It got me thinking about the ethical considerations surrounding working with youth athletes and the responsibilities attached to their long term development.
Is it the responsibility of the club to attend to the educational and personal development of their athletes? Should the athlete shoulder the responsibility as, ultimately, the decision to sign a professional contract is their own? Is the full time academy environment even the best for developing professional athletes? The conveyor belt of talent from the American collegiate system where athletes have to maintain a certain grade point average suggests that other models exist that could produce a more rounded athlete and provide a guard against failure or injury.
My view? I think that those involved in training elite level youth athletes, myself included, have a responsibility to extol the benefits of education for the long term. In the LTAD model, retirement and retainment occurs neatly at the end of the model, retirement can happen anywhere throughout an athlete’s career and that eventuality needs to be addressed. In short, plan for the worst, hope for the best.
At the last weekend I attended this year’s UKSCA conference. Lot’s of kudos should go to everyone involved in the organisation and planning of the event which ran incredibly smoothly. The speaker list was superb; John Goodwin’s talk on sprint mechanics, Mike Stone’s on hypertrophy and Mike McGuigan’s on power assessment were all first rate, it’s always great to hear experts talk with such enthusiasm about their areas of expertise. I think the one presentation that everyone will remember most though was that by Dan Baker, the strength and conditioning coach at the Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos are arguably the most well known and successful rugby league team around and Dan Baker has been their S&C coach for the last 15 years (please correct me if I got that wrong). It’s obvious he knows his way around the weights room and how to get the most out of elite athletes. He also presented data from 17 published articles of his, he also knows his way around a stats package. A key part that I took from his talk was the need to find the balance between the science and the practice, a balance he has definitely struck.
Working in an aggressive contact sport with the very top rugby league talent, he knows how to motivate his athletes to get the best out of them and has fostered a training environment that pushes everyone as hard as possible. He gave an example of one of his athletes complaining of a sore knee and saying he couldn’t squat test that day, all he said to him was “read my t-shirt”, it said ‘harden the f**k up’. Small things like making sure everyone performs max effort lifts one at a time and everyone in the room cheers on each guy in his set, or only letting the guys train shirtless once they reach a target bodyfat score were effective motivational tools. Obviously you couldn’t do this with every sport but it appears a perfect rugby league environment and the team’s consistent performances reflect this.
For me though, the major part I will take away with me was the pure energy and enthusiasm he showed as he spoke. It was truly infectious and it spread throughout everyone in the room as I’m sure it does when he coaches. Great presentation Dan.