We spoke to Head of Professional Medical Services Steve Wright this week, as part of the Saints As One campaign, to find out about how the department is functioning in lockdown, training regimes at home and the importance of good advice...
What does a role as Head of Medical Services actually involve?
In a nutshell, it’s keeping a team of doctors, physios, soft tissue therapists and specialist consultancy staff (Pilates/yoga teachers, podiatrists, chiropractors) focussed towards the performance, demands and requirements of the first-team as professional athletes.
Life in lockdown: dos and don'ts
Lockdown presents a lot of challenges based on our own individual circumstances. Being mindful and considerate of others is a key learning of this whole experience. Everyone's situation is different.
I have a young son, and my wife is currently working for the NHS so it’s a real balancing act.
Life at home for many of the players is very individualised; some have families, some are living fairly solo lives at the moment – so we have to take into account all circumstances and tailor our demands accordingly.
Face to face contact - virtually at present - is a basic human need and we should all be trying to replicate that as much as possible.
There's also a lot of bad information out there. Stick to reputable sources, and try not to let rumour or speculation govern your decisions.
We're all in the same boat - there's a lot of things that are uncontrollable and a lot of unknown. But take comfort in the fact that this is the same for everyone.
Training pre and post lockdown
Usually we have absolute clarity on when we’re playing matches and that dictates our training schedules. We call it periodisation. It allows us to plan ahead.
The challenge in this current situation is the relative unknown and the barrage of bad information that is out there; we have to be careful not to be influenced by that.
Part of this is about showing people, fans, staff, and our players the good information. There’s a lot of ambiguity around.
We’re starting to ask questions around what a return to training might look like, but at this moment in time, we don’t have a lot of information to work with.
Identifying what the most important questions are is key for us, before we start to go in search of any meaningful answers.
Certainly, life in lockdown has felt anything but a reduced workload!
The concept of the pod
The pod system, whereby players are in a group of 5-7, is about trying to give the players themselves good quality care across the board. Which is especially hard remotely.
Supporting those pods are four key members of staff, made up of sports science, psychology, soft tissue therapy and a member of the coaching team.
It means we’re very flexible and adaptable, and there’s enough expertise and resource to be able to deal with any issues or problems, should they arise. Some of which we may have never encountered before.
How can this apply to people living in isolation?
Video link up, for example, has become a really important aspect of everyday life.
It’s giving a real snapshot into people’s lives away from the workplace, or away from the usual scenarios that you come into regular contact with people.
We’ve never really been let into the personal lives of players in the same way as we are now, so it’s giving us a unique insight. Moving forward, we can learn from that.
Our athletes, for context, work extremely hard when they’re with us at Staplewood but we don’t always know what they’re up to elsewhere. Considering what a 24/7 athlete looks like and how we best support that will definitely help us move forward.
How have the players responded?
They’ve seen this as an opportunity. Some of the timed runs, and heart-rate responses we’re receiving are suggesting they’re working incredibly hard.
Every day that they push themselves to the limit at home, they’re potentially gaining an advantage on an opponent.
For some, it will be an opportunity to return to playing fitter than ever. Those on the fringes of the team may be able to stake a claim for the starting XI.
They’re all competitors at heart. They miss the competitive element and introducing that has been key to getting the best out of players during this period.
Life away from the pitch
There’s been some real talent in the kitchen. Oriol Romeu being Spanish knocked up a paella the other week and since then we’ve had five paellas cooked to a pretty good standard.
The players are interacting with one another beyond their general fitness programmes and that’s a good thing. We have a real mix of cultures and backgrounds within the squad so it’s good to be open to learning from others.
Playing football is multiple changes of direction, it’s not just running in a straight line, and that sums up where a lot of people are at in terms of navigating this pandemic and how we deal with daily life and challenges.
There’s been a lot of creativity and endeavour on show, which is pleasing.
Lessons beyond lockdown
The psychology and mental health aspect to all of this has been so important for players and staff alike. The psychology team have really come into their own.
Routine is so important, and the one that people struggle with the most. There’s so many unknowns at the moment, which can be disconcerting. It’s really important to compartmentalise the day, in terms of what is ‘work time’, what is ‘family time’, what is ‘rest time’.
Staying connected, as evidenced by the success of the pod system, has been invaluable for building relationships. We need to consider how we better support people and players beyond the time we’re in physical contact with them.
Feeling stressed or anxious?
We’ve been introduced to the concept of mindfulness, which people may or may not have come across.
There’s a fair amount of stress and anxiety out there, and things are largely out of our control at the moment. These worries are bouncing around in our head so it’s important to take time in the day to forget about things, empty the mind of negativity.
You might not notice anything straight away, but it makes a real difference long-term.