The Anxious Physio
Tales from Sheffield Hockey Club
As a fresh faced keen physio from Sheffield Hallam I was thrilled to get a job with Sheffield Hockey Club straight out of university. At the time, most physios (and maybe even still) were working for free to get experience in sport and so I was blessed with a club who recognised the importance of the role and who had sponsorship for such. At the time, the coach was trying to build a performance environment within an amateur club, which proved successful over the years employing S&C services, Physiotherapy and Psychology support for the squad. This may seem like the norm with a professional club but not many amateur sport set ups have the money or knowledge to put this in place.
I was excited to be part of the team and went on to enjoy 4 years with the club, working with the S&C coach, psychologist and coaching team to help the players perform at their best. As a Physio I worked hard to gain the trust of the players from the start and although not always plain sailing, the years I spent at Sheffield were very fun and formed a huge basis to the start of my career in sports medicine. The club, players, staff and friends were all hugely supportive of the club and over the seasons we did well and progressed as we grew as a team.
As a new Physiotherapist, hoping to work towards a career in sport, the early experiences (and mistakes) at this club allowed me to learn in a safe and protected environment which I don’t think is always the case when your trying to gain experiences in sport. I will share some stories and assuming memories from my time at the start of my journey in a hope it can show that vulnerability and learning in the early stages is not a bad thing.
Real Life ‘Concussion‘ Management
Fresh from my ‘Pitch Side Trauma’ training I was all geared up and fully aware of concussion especially in Hockey. This knowledge is all well and good except when you are a Physio at a Yorkshire’s Mens club where some have been playing hockey for as long as you were been born! On one occasion I promptly ran onto the pitch when a player was smashed with a ball to the head and collapsed in a heap on the floor. If you are aware of some team sports, Yorkshire and an ‘old school’ thinking towards physio then it won’t be a surprise that the player laughed in my face when I suggested he ‘might like to take a minute off the pitch to check his head was intact’. You may think that I should have made him but if you knew this player I was lucky to get out alive by even ‘suggesting’ he might want to come off the pitch.
On another occasion a (let’s say feisty) member of the squad was smashed by another players stick in the face. This player did actually come off but the ‘clinical assessment’ consisted of him telling me he was “playing whether I liked it or not as he would like to return the favour to the player who had hit him”. Even in 2008, concussion management wasn’t what it is now and we were lucky that both these players were OK. 10 years later, more confidence and one bad experience with a head injury later, it’s safe to say my concussion management has very much improved.
‘Physio Pass Out’
Something that started as a one off / joke quickly became a reason I was popular with the squad. The training schedule was demanding and in an amateur environment all the players were working full time, training and committing to a squad ethos to progress and improve. This was tough physically and mentally at times and although the squad were keen, like any normal human being sometimes they just needed a break. Therefore, at the start of each season I gave each player a ‘Physio Pass Out’.
This meant they could miss a training session with my backing and perhaps a small turn of the truth to the coach ;). They were only allowed 1 per season and so they had to use to wisely. As you can imagine this went down well with the squad and looking back was my way of recognising fatigue, providing a healthy barrier between player and coach and looking after their well being. As an old and wise Physio I would obviously not recommend this and highlight other ways to ensure your athletes are not fatigued and are communicating with the coach :)
Sickness on Match Day
I pride myself with developing a good relationship with a squad and through time at Sheffield we worked well together and generally they all listened and took Physio advice on board really well. The coach new that and trusted me that I would relay information regarding injuries and the fitness of the squad each week accordingly. For the majority of the time this worked really well... expect on one occasion!
I had a phone call from a player (key to the squad) the night before a match to say he didn’t feel too good and was just letting me know. We decided to review early in the morning and make a decision to see how he was. To set the scene, we were due to play our biggest rivals, it was a local derby game and we badly needed the win at that stage in the season. This is one of the times I defiantly let my emotions for the squad over rule my medical decision making.
In the morning I spoke to the player and it’s fair to say he wasn’t feeling well and had been visiting the bathroom frequently. He was desperate to play, but looking back was obviously trusting me to make the call, but together we decided to let him warm up and see how he got on. We/I also decided to keep it to ourselves and not inform the coach as he was already quite stressed about the game and in my innocence I was confident I could manage the situation. After a Lucozade (obvious perfect choice) and self administered painkillers the player did the warm up and confessed he felt a little better so was happy to play.
Now in non medical terms that was obviously, “we are playing our biggest rivals, I’ve dragged myself out for this... I’m playing!” Probably not surprising that after about 15 mins said player was curled over the side barrier of the pitch, unable to play and seeing Lucozade in reverse. As you can imagine I was NOT popular with the coach, we lost the game and I don’t think I ever kept a secret from a coach ever again.
”You work hard so make sure you have the support you need!”
Some of the key messages I want to get across here are that as a junior sports physio, I learnt on the job, made mistakes and things weren’t always straightforward. I was lucky that I worked in an environment where I did have a lot of support but I wonder if that is in place all the time and if junior Physio’s have the confidence to ask for help and admit they need more support.
I am not sure if Physio’s / therapists get the support they need at the moment, in various fields and certainly when I was working in the past, anxiety and fear of being good enough was constantly on my mind. I think certain clubs / teams / hospitals are better than others but I still think a lot of pressure is put on Physios / therapists / medics and anyone based in a ‘first response’ or medical environment to do be at their best 200% of the time.
How much strain does this put on our mental health when we already occasionally don’t think we are doing enough?
I learnt A LOT from these early incidences (if which there are many more) and I now look back in fondness and smile that I had a very organic learning environment from the start
which has hugely influenced my experience, practice and people skills to this day.
To new physios / therapists / doctors trying to learn, develop and push themselves in a tough and competitive world... give yourself a break, trust your instincts, ask for help and look after number one!