Monday 25 June 2018

Coaches & Therapists - Learning through Shared Experiences

Within my therapy practise, I sometimes see a series of individuals from the same sport or activity with the same or very similar ailments. I thought it was important to figure out why, after all, understanding the cause is more effective than constantly treating the injury.

However, communicating that information to coaches or instructors is often a challenge. Coaches can be very sensitive to what they perceive as criticism and can sometimes get very defensive. This is understandable as they are doing their best with what they have been taught, what they have researched and for what they need to achieve.

Shared Information

We learn best through personal experience, but there is always opportunity to learn through others’ experiences too. Shared information can be very beneficial.

If health professionals feedback their findings to coaches, the coaches can act on it. If coaches feedback their observations to health professional then that health professional can adjust their treatment accordingly.

It sounds like a simple and effective plan for improvement but it can be surprisingly difficult to put into practice.

The Gymnasts

In a short time span, I treated a series of young female gymnasts with similar knee injuries. They all came from the same club or training facility. I began to ask myself. Is this is something associated with their training practice? Do I approach the coaches? 

The Ruggers

Another time, I treated several young men from the same rugby club. Their ailments were not similar but a lot of their best players were spending too much time on the bench due to injury.  At first, the coaches were defensive that their training regimes were being questioned or criticised, but they were keen to understand this and open to discussion. Eventually, we did come to some conclusions and the injury rate plummeted.


I get to treat some of Edinburgh’s finest Parkour athletes. The movements involved in this activity are very natural, a changing variety of powerful and flowing motions.  Nonetheless, training will involve repetitive movements to improve skill and strength like all other practices. I treated a handful of women with the same right shoulder issue. Troubleshooting the problem with them and investigating training practice we concluded that the problem probably arose from wall climbs. Fortunately, I already have a strong relationship with the coaches and practitioners and feeding back is a little less sensitive.

What did the parkour coaches say?

The coaches were absolutely aware of the need to work on both sides of the body equally and believed that they did. But their students in the early stages did not have the upper body strength to pull themselves with effort through both arms.

Thanks to Donald Dalziel Media for the photo

So they all pushed up through the left foot and relied on the stronger right arm to get to the top of the wall. Their left arm couldn’t do the movement and so they could only practice on one side. Preferring one side and practicing so relentlessly is likely to have created an imbalance. Even though these athletes are now strong enough to lift and pull through equally on both sides the likelihood is that they still habitually pull harder through the right side, especially as they tired.

The Feedback Loop

If we want to progress and improve, coaches and therapists need to set up a dialogue, be prepared to take on new information, evaluate it, and change practice where required.

A feedback loop is required for best practice. Coaches who receive information from therapists about the physical health of their athlete or client need to use that information to alter their programme and potentially make changes their wider practice. Coaches can also feed information back about the imbalances that they encounter in their practice and engage the help of therapists for best results.