Jack: Thanks for tuning into this episode of ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast bite size. This clip comes from episode 2 with Mark McGrath, a rehabilitation expert in the AFL circles. He has worked for the likes such as Dylan Shiel, Chris Judd, Tom Mitchell, and Luke Hodge. Mark discusses the DNS methods, as well as what it’s like working with world class athletes. Hope you enjoy it.
You mentioned postural stability was something you was big on. What does that mean to you and how have you evolved your practices with improving? Is there such thing as optimal posture or is it just an evolving thing that you’re working on?
Mark: It’s so basic to us that we overlook it. Posture is our basic uprighting now. And then how that’s being achieved.
If we go back to the baby, because the baby’s the ultimate, because it hasn’t been taught anything and yet it’s got perfect posture. So, it’s more like we lose the perfection, and then we’ve got to go through stages to gain it. With uprighting and then weight shifting. If you watch a baby move, it never muscles, it shifts its weight to get ideal recruitment based on the task. And then uses the free ride of uprighting to do that.
The classic example is a full squat. Our basic posture is this uprighting plus the coactivation of tonic and phasic, that I mentioned at the start, plus intra-abdominal pressure. So, that’s our overall posture in order to not only to move, but also to rest.
Jack: And do you think, whether it’d be schools or young athletes would take it upon themselves, what should they be doing to prevent that? Is it standing desks? Is it sitting on Swiss balls? What would be the optimal?
Mark: It’s tapping into the aliveness of posture. Like the uprighting is like a basic aliveness and an alertness and it’s being accurate with up and down. So, if my chest is forward, then I can’t be accurate with up and down because now my diaphragm’s not aligned. The diaphragm fiber is a purely vertical and the transversus is purely horizontal. So, that’s showing us how that deeper system wants to be organized in order for those fibers to be accurate with their orientation.
Jack: If your whole focus is for performance, is there a ballet posture that is better for performance opposed to? Or is it just a matter of the human body has an anatomy that has a stronger say? If you’re in good alignment, how the diaphragm’s supposed to be aligned with the transverse abdominis and that’s superior opposed to the sport dictating your postural dominance? Does that make sense?
Mark: Yeah, it does. If you look at an elite male ballet dancer, really high perched with the sternocleidomastoid. So, they’re lifting, they can do it, but they’ve changed the nature of optimal shoulder stabilization. And again, you can get around these things with treatment and so on. The thing is this is a great point because if you look at the male model and what we also do to female shapes, why is the contorted shape in our mind’s eye preferable?
Jack: And I remember you saying with the younger athletes, if they haven’t had a chronic experience where they’re in pain, they’re young, so they haven’t had maybe trauma or whatever it might be, so they’re going okay, but they’re not functioning at their best. It can take a bit of time for them to see it. How do you build that awareness?
Mark: I think really realizing the role of the diaphragm and the fact that it changes its shape. We’re not talking respiration, we’re talking a shape change of a large parachute-shape muscle. That shape change is the piston effect of intra-abdominal pressure. Because when I first try to do that, I’ll just mainly tense abdominal muscles. But I’ve got to realize I have no other way to stabilize my spine. This is it. That has to become a priority for me. But when I’m young, it’s easy for it just to slip and say, ‘Well, I’m doing plenty for the abdominal wall or the low back.’ But none of that’s from this inside piston perspective. Because when the push is good, we know the level of the hips as well.
Jack: And you mentioned the importance of curiosity, working with athletes that are curious. How important is that? And how can you develop curiosity, if it’s something that isn’t there or might not be at a level where it needs to be for an elite athlete?
Mark: There’s a good quote: ‘Curiosity is why you learn.’ Because it’s the free ride of you already have an interest in the material. I think what happens when we go to school, because you’re already told to learn more about like third person information and regurgitated, we switch off and think that that’s what the world’s about. But in actual fact, that’s the menu that we’re looking at to see what we want to eat.
So, curiosity is how I interact with the menu. And then my network, the relationships, bridges between the first person curiosity and the third person menu, that’s the second person interaction. That’s your mentors, your coaches, your guides. But who are particularly working with this curiosity, they’re not just tipping more from the content.
Jack: Thanks for tuning into the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. This clip came from episode 2 with Mark McGrath. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. Big thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to take a second to leave us a review. It helps us reach more listeners and is greatly appreciated. I’ll see you on the next episode.
Chris has over 20 years of experience working at the highest clinical level, offering expert opinions to various state & national athletes. West Coast Health is proud to be a partner of the West Coast Eagles Football Club providing them with Physiotherapist and Injury management services for the AFL WAFL team as well.
Highlights of the episode:
How Chris develops his crafts and skills
Who are his usual clients and athletes he works with
Jack: Welcome to our live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight my guest is Chris Perkin. He is the director of West Coast Health and High Performance, and he’s part-time in the West Coast Eagles where he started in 2004. Chris has over 20 years of experience at the highest clinical level, offering expert opinions to various state and national athletes. West Coast Health is proud to be partner of the West Coast Eagles Football Club, providing them with physiotherapists and injury management services for the AFL and WAFL team.
Before we start tonight’s episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge and some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to strengthen the AFL community. If you like the show, please show your support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We’re on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
Welcome, Chris. Thanks for joining us again, mate.
Chris: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me on, mate. I look forward to having a chat.
Jack: We’ve got a bit more time on our hands now to really dive into your journey. You mentioned 2004 West Coast Eagles, so you’ve had a good stint there, which, no doubt, you spent some time of your career over at the Eagles, but let’s go back to the very beginning. At what age did you discover you had a passion for physiotherapy?
Chris: It’s always a funny one. I think people find it difficult to know when the exact moment was, but being in sport, I suppose this is probably a familiar story with people going into physio. I injured myself playing country footy in the in Kambalda, which is a place near Kalgoorlie. You guys over the East Coast wouldn’t have a clue where that is. A little mining town and everyone plays footy and cricket and basketball.
So, spraining the ankle. My old lady, my mom, took me to the local physio clinic or nursing post it’s called. Because there’s not much going on there in a small country town. It was a good experience, basically. Couldn’t move with this ankle and got myself back playing within a week or two, which, obviously, we know that happens. And that was probably enough of a good experience for me to get involved at about year 10 or 11, I think, as a 15–16-year-old.
So, I guess from there on, it took me on that sporting concept pathway. And obviously physio is not just about sport, we know that. I was lucky enough to delve into that when I graduated. But my physio career was almost over on a fourth year country prac where I left a wax bath on in the hospital I was at and came back to a flaming room and the fire department there. So, I was destined not to work in a hospital.
Jack: It’s classy. So, everything turned out all right?
Chris: Yeah. The fourth year student lost the marks for leaving the wax bath on. That sent me into sports physio instead of the hospital setting.
Jack: You made the right choice, I reckon. And with the physio side of things, you mentioned a week turnaround, what did your rehab look like at the age of 15 at that point? What was the ankle injury and what did you do?
Chris: You’re testing me out now 30 years ago? From memory, I was doing some wallboards and butt balancing sort of stuff, just getting on and actually just walking out feeling, ‘Oh, that actually feels better.’
And I think that’s what physio is. Our aim is to have someone walking out the room and being a bit more empowered and feeling like we’ve had an effect. And so, walking out of somebody and thinking they helped me there. Geez, that’s great. This is not a bad little feeling.
I guess that’s what we do in our profession, it’s helping out people. So, it was a nice feeling and rewarding to get back to what you love doing. And that’s how I’m in sports and medicine and health, it’s getting people back to what they love doing and that’s exercise.
Jack: Awesome. I love that. That’s great. And it’s an empowering message as well for practitioners too. Like you said, if we can help the athlete walk in and as they walk out they’re feeling better, more confident and feeling better physically, you’ve done a pretty good job.
Chris: Absolutely. Just to know you’ve actually had an effect. Something’s changed. Often injuries don’t change in a hurry, but to walk out of every session with someone and something’s actually helped, or your mind’s changed or you’ve been positively influenced by something, is good.
Jack: And what about those that have influenced you in your early part of your career? Did you have mentors early on or did you forge your own way? Talk us through.
Chris: I was lucky enough to jump into physio practice early days that linked in with a couple of sports teams. I think my first company was Western Sport Gear, it was called. A fellow Mac Robins, he was more towards the end of his career and he ran the Australian hockey team and Milwaukee basketball, who, sadly, didn’t make the finals this year. But I think that was a great experience. So, he took me on knowing I’d played a lot of sport along the pathway before hitting the physio. I was a footballer, basketballer. That all helps, I think, as you’re developing into your profession to be active in the things you want to go into.
That was a nice start. I cut my teeth on some elite sports people in my very early days. And I still remember, you might not know the guy’s name, the ‘Alabama Slamma’ he was. He was James Crawford. He was one of the centers for the Wildcats. And my fist ankle strapping was James Crawford telling me, ‘Hey man, you know what you’re doing, man, with that ankle?’ And he’s ‘Alabama’ and he’s got a 21-year-old strapping his ankle. So, you learn pretty quickly when athletes give you shit and you grow from that. I mean, you can take it on board and it’s yeah, but no, it’s great.
That was a really nice start and working with Wildcats, trying out hockey and doing some trips with some more senior physios in my early days and traveling to Pakistan with the Australia hockey. That was an amazing experience back in 1999, moons ago. People only just started going back to Pakistan, so I was lucky enough to be there with the Aussie hockey team and seeing the passion of sports around the world, you know what I mean? People playing cricket in every park you walk around in Pakistan. It’s unbelievable. The hockey stadium. Incredible stuff.
So, it was instrumental in getting me involved in that stuff. And I suppose winning a premiership with the Wildcats in 1999 was pretty good memory. So, that was a good influence. And then I did my sports physio degree. Funnily enough, Peter O’Sullivan was our lecturer that year, transitioning out of sports and so transitioning into lecturing and then my next employer, I guess. So, Peter O’Sullivan, the back guru from Perth, with all this amazing research that he’d done. He got me on board to work with him for a few years, and then we became business partners.
That was an amazing experience with Peter. He taught me his trade in spinal pain, pelvic pain, chronic pain. And to bring that into the sporting field was really special and a good part of how I operate. I was very lucky to be business partners with him for 10 years along the way and a women’s health physio in Judith Thompson. And so, there’s some key physios that influenced me on the way. And I guess working with athletes like you are, mate, and all the people that are listening with us.
Probably two athletes that stick in my mind are Steve Hooker, I worked with him. He’s a Melbourne man, so you know him well. His time over here when he was with the WEI’s program. And he was a genius at just getting everything out of his body. Wanted to perform, pushed everyone around into getting better. So, almost led to actually go and hunt things down on to how to actually improve on performance and all the little things that make a difference, the 1% that makes a difference in an athlete’s body and how they feel.
We came up with some fun things. He’d search around for different people’s opinions and we’d talk it through. And yeah, spending some nights in the front of the TV, putting needles in him or getting release work done was part of our routine as well. My kids still have his gold medal, he had it around his neck when he was over. It was pretty great. You get to know your athletes really well when you work closely with them in it. That’s a pretty lucky thing to be doing with what we do in our profession.
And then probably another player that I just rate highly is Matt Priddis. Matty Priddis, Brownlow medalist for the West Coast Eagles. He comes through the rookie draft at a mature age. He just got the best out of it. Mr. Football we called him and his influence on me is just making people do all the things you need to do to get better. There’s no spare time when you’re at a footy club. Don’t just wait around. Get on the roller. Do some extra trigger work. Ask people questions on how you can improve. He was a great advocate for doing everything you can do to get the best out of your body.
So, those are the names that really helped me a lot along the pathway and gave me an approach that I do myself. And everyone has their own approach, but it blends in from all the influences that you’ve had. And all the physios along the pathway that we work with at the club. Being at the Eagles for 20 years, the band that you have with the physio group. So, Paul Tucker’s been with me forever there. Mark Finucane and Steve Allan, they’re great guys who influence you.
And, of course, the sports science crew that we work with. That whole team environment, working with sport science and coaches and everyone who’s got the same aim – to get your athlete at the best level and keep them on the track. And, unfortunately, at the Eagles at the moment we’re not quite doing the best job. We’ve been cursed a little bit. We’re doing everything we can, as we always will in my profession.
Jack: A hundred percent. I like that mindset, mate. It’s not just practitioners in your field. Obviously, you had mentors that you looked up to and you learned from. But also learning off the best athletes that you’ve worked with, practitioners in other fields, like you mentioned, coaches, sports scientists, strength & conditioning coaches, it’s a good perspective to have. I think, as all practitioners in the field of what we do, athlete preparation. Is that something that has come naturally to you, that open mindset? Like you mentioned, with Steve Hooker you loved the fact that he would probe you and challenge you on ‘How can we think more laterally and do things differently?’
Chris: I think everyone has a different approach and everyone’s had more experiences. That’s what we do as professionals. We look at the people who’ve done the research, we try it out, we see if it works from our perspective. Athletes respond to different things. Every athlete has a different mindset, don’t they? You need to get inside their head and just being an easy person to talk to is really important to get the best out of each athlete. Unless you get those details down, you might be pushing shit uphill in trying to get what you want out of them. If they’ve got a mental barrier of some sort you don’t quite get.
And we’re not going to be best suited to every person we talk with. You might find that if you’re open enough to different ideas, you’re not getting someone better than work with people you know, who have different skillsets. My motto is just deal with people who are the best at what they do, and then chase that down. We always aspire to say, ‘These people are great at what they’re doing.’ So, get as much information as you can from everyone around you, really.
Jack: And for the physiotherapists tuning in, that want to work in elite sport, they might be working at some official spot at the moment or community level, and they’re striving to get their foot in the door. You mentioned Peter O’Sullivan and the connection there was through doing your Master’s with Noel. How did you get that connection early on in your career? Was it calling? Was it through your own networks?
Chris: I think that was through a network of working alongside sports trainers. When you go through your degree, for me, as an employer, I think looking at getting involved in work experience. Ringing people up. If there’s an area you want to go to, ring them up, be annoying to a point where you can be helpfully annoying, because otherwise you get blocked pretty quickly. But if you want to chase something, chase it, it’s not going to come to you. You’ve got to chase it. Like physios now, jumping in and asking, ‘Sir, are you just sitting here with the patient that’s gone to the surgery?’ That’s a great idea. Just to get connected with the surgeon, the patient. Ring the personal trainers, that I deal with all the time.
I’m going off track here a bit, but I guess for getting your first bite of the cherry when you’re going into your profession, it’s actually putting it out there. Doing unpaid work that’s going to get you the opportunity to go where you need to, and just show a passion for what you’re doing. That’s what I’m looking for in all these people who tell you they love what they’re doing and they want to aspire to be better. So, having people around you that want to keep continue to be better, that ask you questions are really important.
My initial job was based on a contact and an opportunity from a question and my involvement in basketball. I love basketball playing and I’d also strapped footy guys as a player, playing through North Beach and Subiaco footy over here, and actually women too, working with one of the physios, helping strap guys before I’d go out and play myself.
Jack: It all helps.
Chris: Yeah, all helps. For many years I was running out, warming up my local footy team, going and cracking someone through Essex spine just before someone goes on the field, and putting a finger back, running down the full back and putting a finger back in. It all helped you just get the experience of what you wanted to go into.
Jack: A hundred percent. Take us through your mindset. Did you know that you are going to be a physio at that point, like in sport, and you were doing deliberate practice? Or was it just that you had a skillset and you just wanted to help?
Chris: Oh no, that was once I was in physio study, going through uni, still playing footy, going to the gym, juggling everything with life and work and doing your sport and having relationships and getting out with your mates and all those sort of things. The fun times. So, it’s just trying to put in as much as you can to where you think you’re going, to experience them.
From a physio perspective, we love to say dislocated shoulders and fingers and things like that. It’s not something most people love, but, unfortunately, they’re the experiences you want to see as a sports physio in your early stages, so you can experience it.
I just popped my young bloke’s, fifteen-year-old’s kneecap back in, when he was working at ‘Hungry Jack’s’ a couple of weeks ago. And so, that’s from years of experience. Instead of going to the hospital with ambulance, he’s given me a call, so I’ve ducked into his work.
Jack: And he finished up the shift.
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s just at every opportunity using what you can to do what you do.
Jack: Love that. And you mentioned an early on moment with James Crawford, it definitely could have been a sink-or-swim moment for a young practitioner. It reminds me of moments where you do hear what some athletes would keep to themselves and they’d be nice, and then other athletes will definitely let the trainer or the physiotherapist know if they don’t like the strapping job. And you said it’s a good growth experience to get better fit for physios, trainers, whoever it might be that’s experiencing those moments.
How do you like to develop your craft? You’ve talked about making the most of every opportunity you can get, whether it’d be strapping a mate, but are you trying to find new methodology to help blokes like Steve Hooker? Is that calling colleagues and hearing their, like you mentioned, research? What’s your favorite way to develop your own craft?
Chris: So, develop your own knowledge, I think. One thing is just talking and being open about cases. Discussing cases. In the AFL and NRL, whatever sport is at elite level, we’re always trying to get our patient, our players, our athletes back as quickly as we can and as safely as we can.
So, ringing people within your network, across fields. I was lucky enough to do a little bit of lecturing at Espeetar. And you’ve got some genius people over there. And you can join on your context, even in the research fields over there. They have a really rich research hospital. You can ring up and say like, ‘What’s the latest on this? Have you guys got anyone back earlier on this protocol?’ I think everyone’s happy to share. I’m just going to be careful with specific names, so it doesn’t get out.
But I think that’s one big thing is actually talking to colleagues and actually going through case studies. It’s a learning experience for everyone. Talking to sports positions, talking to anyone that’s had an experience with a particular case you’re looking for. And social media is huge now. It’s so much better. When I was studying undergrad, you we’re going to the library and looking at journal articles. I’m showing my great age. But it’s so much easier now and us oldies have a little bit less experience on the social media, but I still have a crack at trying to actually follow as many people as I can on that.
Mikie Use is the great one over there, who does have so much stuff on ACO stuff himself. He’s made a little bit of a business out of just having a great podcast that he does and he’s ACO staff. So, it’s the same with lots of different areas. People become experts in those areas and it’s nice to follow them and what they’re doing. You’re still getting your journal articles to flip through. Where we are at the West Coast, we share a lot of updated articles across sports science and medicine.
But I reckon the best one is actually asking questions. Feeling dumb enough to put yourself out there to say, ‘Look, I really need some help on this case. What do you think we can do?’ And I also think with patients, it’s asking them, ‘What do you feel has helped you or what’s not working?’ And being open, like, ‘Look, we’re not going anywhere near. What do you reckon we need to do?’ And having an open conversation about that and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got this other guy I want you to see. I want to come in and catch up with him.’
In my clinic at West Coast Health and High Performance we will often bring a case that’s challenging in and get the whole group of 8 or 10 of us physios and group of people in there and challenge a run-around and go ‘Here he is, this is what I’m doing. What do you think? You guys piss him out, ask him questions and do some assessment on him. Let’s have a big open group discussion on this chronic hamstring tendinopathy that’s not getting better. Why? Why is it not getting better?’ Just challenge ourselves as to what else we can do.
I think people need to be mindful that they don’t know everything. And if you’re not getting someone better, challenge yourself to get more help. Don’t be afraid to get help.
Jack: And this might be a tricky question, but in your experience with doing that, specifically with physios, how much is it that the diagnosis was slightly off and how much is it that the relationship with the athlete was slightly off there that you didn’t quite get enough information?
Chris: You get very closely linked with patients, so you get very protective. Physios become protective sometimes with their patients and the patients develop a good relationship with them. I think patients appreciate that when someone’s referred you across to someone else, if you can’t get the process. Not necessarily to ongoing treatment, but for advice and say, ‘This guy does this, he’s a specialist in the pelvis or the groin or sees a lot of these. How about you see him and then he’ll give you his advice and you come back?’
I think that’s really important. But you’re right. I think they’re the ones that work better when the physio is mindful to actually push him on, as opposed to second or third opinions, because people haven’t got better and they become fed up. So, if someone’s not getting better with the injury, then you need to go forward and change what you’re doing or get a different approach. And do not look at it as a negative on yourself. You look at it as try and maybe ‘How can I learn from this?’ That’s more important.
But I think the people that maintain the relationship with their patient, they’re actually happy to refer on to someone who’s maybe a specialist or more expertise in the area.
Jack: Ultimately, you’re putting the athlete first, aren’t you? The client first, before yourself.
Chris: That’s our job. That’s our job to get the best that the human being in front of us, whether it’s an athlete or a patient with chronic back pain or whatever it is, you got to get them better. It’s not a nice environment to work in with someone who’s continually coming back in pain or having the same problems. You need to tough it up and figure out that you need to change your approach or get some help. And getting some help isn’t a negative, it’s a massively positive learning environment.
Jack: You’ve worked in a range of sporting environments. What are some highlights that you look back fondly of, Chris?
Chris: That Pakistan trip. Going to Pakistan and getting delivered this massive one ball, one made of ice block I had to chisel out, and watching how sport was done in a passionate country like that.
Having done a lot of physio at my local footy club, my mighty North Beach Tigers, I’ve just been very lucky to win a bunch of premierships with all these boys. And the celebration and always being the guy that asked, ‘Okay, what about this? What about that?’ Injury wise. The celebrations and the fun that you have with community sport and your physio link with that and with the players there. I can’t say enough about that. The links with community sport and the commitments to those and both as a physio/player and heavily involved in the club.
Watching Steve Hooker get his gold medal and being able to experience that with him. Working with the Eagles team. I was lucky enough to only be there for two or three years before they’d won a premiership. So, 2006, 2018. A couple of great premierships there. That’s not just that, it’s the relationships you build along the pathway with the clubs you’re with and the people you actually share that joy with, as opposed to the moment itself. But they’re certainly highlights from a sports physio point of view I was very lucky enough to be involved with.
But you can have just as much fun winning a local premiership, helping out with the under forties hockey team. It’s just how involved you get with whatever club and link you’ve got. I think it’s the fun stuff of what we do and being passionate about it, getting engaged with anything you do. Most importantly, being engaged in what you do well. So, I think there’s a couple of lucky moments I’ve had there over time and they’ll always stick in my memory.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing some great highlights and, from a personal point of view, all the way to the top, to two gold medals and premierships, which is great experience.
Chris: And professionally, I probably should say that getting that specialization under my belt was a pretty important thing. We were pushed by Peter O’Sullivan, he’s a genius physio and a research clinician. And that was a pretty big highlight of my career to be able to do that. And that’s something that a lot of physios are aspiring to do now and going through the training program to become that highest level of professionalism that you can get clinically. So, that was probably professionally the great moment to get that under the belt and then keep going. I’m not a researcher, but I love to be clinically working on people and continue advancing what we do.
Jack: And what about on the flip side? What have been some challenges that you’ve faced and what have you learned from them?
Chris: Challenge is always a difficult one. Challenge is coming patients that are not getting better, patients you’ve actually injured and learning from that and then trying to avoid doing that again. We get so connected with patients that we want to make joy within the right thing, and then some of them got backwards. So, learning from that and not doing that again. And then getting on the right track early.
The biggest challenge in my life and my career physio-wise was probably losing my wife. We had an awful time in 2009 and we were having a third baby and the baby got infected and she delivered a stillborn baby at term. And so, the baby died and my wife went into a coma and died three days later. So, no one likes to hear that stuff.
Jack: I’m so sorry to hear that.
Chris: Yeah, that’s the sort of thing no one wants to hear, but that’s the challenge and that’s the life story. So, for me to juggle kids, to juggle profession. I’ve done my sports physio degree by then and just finished my specialization and wanting to go in a career path, it wasn’t the priority. But I was lucky enough to have a great business partner in Peter and Judith with Body Logic Physio we had.
In our environment, in sport and the health profession, we help a lot of people. and it comes back in spades. And I was overwhelmed by the support I had with that. Sometimes I feel almost a bit lucky in one way that I had so much support. And then the other side of it is the opposite to luck. Blessed that the amount of support I have in my workplace was very supportive and bizarre, but it continued normality. I think what I learned out of that is the importance of relationships with human beings, live your life to the fullest.
For me I’ve just been a lucky man, to have my kids and grow up with them for the last 10 years and teach them the way I want to teach them. And, hopefully, they’ve learned a few things over time. But to professionally keep juggling footy, Eagles, business. The Eagles were amazing at that time for me. Actually I gained a credit through a sporting team that just did everything they could do at the time to just keep me on board and ‘What can we do?’
I think that over time people with challenges in their life and health challenges, look at Neale Daniher, for example, he was there at that time. I look at what he’s become. He’s an absolute legend, what he’s done with his cards he’s been dealt. So, it’s just a case of getting through the absolute crisis in life with things that occur and then try and create something from it.
And I was lucky enough to set up what we called the Sunshine Beach one. And it was a memory for anyone who’s lost a young child. So, they ended up being a memory of it for my wife. But, of course, people who have lost kids, babies and kids, which is going to be Red Nose foundation. So, we did that for about 10 years.
The learning of that is human beings are very resilient and we’ll keep plugging along. Kids are resilient more than anyone. The opportunity to have so much support. And we don’t know what’s ahead of us, so just live the moment and enjoy what you do, be passionate about what you do. Don’t hold back from what you want to do.
My difficulty was accepting that professionally I couldn’t probably go into all the things I want to do. And I think the massive juggle of life and that’s what we all do. Everyone is juggling life. So, there’s just trying to prioritize things when, as you know, elite sports are sort of followed environment. So, very lucky to be out of game, probably part-time then, and still stay involved thanks to the footy club and the good people around me.
Jack: Thanks for sharing, mate. And sorry again to hear that, but a super inspiring story for your kids, no doubt. They’d be looking up to you and lucky to have you. Like you said, resilience, so be able to have that attitude, to appreciate those that’re around you. Then I can imagine they would come out like spades and get around you and help that support and to raise a fundraiser as well. Absolute tragedy, but it sounds like you kept moving forward, which is, like you said, Neale Daniher way. So, super inspiring I’m sure for everyone listening.
You mentioned the Body Logic with Peter O’Sullivan. So, it sounds like you guys have been business partners for quite some time. For the business owners out there listening in, have you had a successful working relationship in that space? There is high pressure and there’s lots of stakes. Have you guys worked well together?
Chris: I guess what we had at the time was a business and Body Logic is a great business. I’m not with them anymore. Obviously, developing my own West Coast Health and High Performance. Because, I guess, what we did at the time was we had our specialty areas. And Pete was the guru and he’s in back pain, chronic pain and managing all these sorts of things and all chronic issues and the researcher. And the women’s health was run by Judith Thompson. She’s a pioneer in women’s health in IBM Perth.
So, we had our areas, so sports, physio, and that specifics part was mine. Pete’s was the back pain and the spinal pain, but also chronic pain issues and Judith’s was women’s health. That worked really well. And I guess you can only stretch yourself so far over time. We knew our strengths, we pushed each other in different ways, but from a business perspective it worked really well for like 10 years.
And then my challenge, that was a really big part of challenging my career, a big tough one because I didn’t really want to move from Body Logic, but it was a bit too hard for everyone involved to just continualy develop something else. And my opportunity came up to set up a practice with the Eagles over at their home ground. And so, that was probably one of the first practices located at…
Jack: That’s becoming a bit of a trend now.
Chris: Yeah, we started a good job and set up in a place with the boomers in and out there now. But I think having that high performance center now at the Eagles is a dream of my wife and me. But doing it on mine own has been a tough gig, having from a practice where you’re working with two or three practice, but you get great people around you, supporting you, physios working with you and great business manager helping along the way. With Mel, who’s done that for me. It makes life a lot easier and that’s, I suppose, the key with business, isn’t it? You’ve got to have a plan, but you’ve got to be able to enjoy it. And we are nowhere near where we need to be and that’s continually building up and enjoying it on the way.
Jack: On that note, it makes a lot of sense having a physio clinic performance space within an AFL club. Why has it taken this long for it to start? Were there some strong challenges in getting it started?
Chris: Oh no. The Eagles facility was basically a move. They were at CBO forever and CBO basically got developed over us. You probably don’t know the backing behind it all. So, that was purely about building a community medical center that linked with the new build that was done. So, it was a multi-million dollar build at Vic Park, which is an area that we’d never been before.
It took a few years for it to develop. The facility there is outstanding, credit to the people that organized it and built it all. And I would challenge other facilities around just to have what we’ve got there. The Doggies did it probably 10 years ago, so they did it at Koji. And what we’ve got, I won’t say it’s better in any way because it’s different, but it’s ahead of what else is out there based on it’s the newest build.
So, something else would come down the track, that’ll be even more inspiring and more things going on. But our clinic was based on a lot of negotiating over time to just fulfill a role that they wanted anyway. As an offering to the community, we’re coming in bringing this big footy club.
Jack: That was good timing.
Chris: Yeah, timing was right, but, like everything in business, you have to negotiate and jump at it, otherwise you miss out.
Jack: A hundred percent. And talk us through the space for those that haven’t been there. Who is your classic client that works with you? Who are the athletes that work with you?
Chris: So, the business is separate to the point that the Eagles guys will come up and do their high performance stuff and their DEXA testing, and their VO2 max testing in there. I bought identity testing that they have as a part of research. If they need a Biodex testing, they can come up and use those things, which are often used for return to sport testing or measuring weaknesses. Most of the stuff they need is down at their actual footy club, but the occasional time to come and use the high performance stuff, that’s when they come up. So, the same stuff is offered to the community.
And so, I guess we’ve got a high performance part, which is just small aspect of the clinic. I mean, our clinic is based around physio and treating sports injuries, back pain, arthritis, your day-to-day patients that we’ll all see, that can all do with exercise. But the high-performance part of it is for the recreation or stimuli or anyone who wants to actually get the best out of themselves and actually get the best measurement out of themselves, get the best progress from a planning and a programming point of view. And go to that next level, whatever it is that ticks their box, or goal they want to create. That’s what the facility is there for.
We do the same with every patient we see. But for me with a patient to be able to go into a force platform test and measure their jump off the force plates and measure their guessed rock force left versus right by just jumping on a force plate. Or if the guys are there to jump on the decks that locates your body comp and drop 20 kilos, big fellow. If body comp’s not that good, but this is the base for you and we challenge you to lose 15 kilos over the next three months by doing X, Y, and Z. So, that’s very lucky to have that stuff there.
That’s not going to exist in most practices. I do think that takes a while to just get out into the community, that these facilities are available to the public. And it started getting better. We’ll look after some of the other local elite teams in towns who don’t have the facilities. And that’s only a small percentage of what we do. It’s trying to get all the community engaged in these things. And you know, why would I do that? But I think it just needs to be sold to the people that it is a very good opportunity. That’s important. And if you want to take yourself to that next level, like you say in your ‘Prepare Like A Pro’, if you want to get to that next level, then do what you can, help yourself, use facilities that exist around your town, wherever you live.
Jack: A hundred percent. And to have those objective measures, like you said, from body comp to screening and have access to all that, no doubt, there’ll be some athletes out there that have just never had access to it or practitioners as well, like the development of these start to be able to have that.
Chris: Absolutely. And just return to sport after an ACL, everyone does it. But I guess having just a little bit of extra resources to tick your box. And even if we’re not the ones doing the full return to sport, we can help other physios or exercise physios or PTs do their thing by just giving them this resource, giving them the report back. So, it all ticks a box of getting people back safely, returning to sport.
Jack: So, there’s a lot of other practitioners around the area that are also using your facility for consultation and assessments.
Chris: There is and there isn’t. That becomes a bit of a protective mode to pump some people with some extra resources, as I talked about before. If you can get the bit, if you’re willing to put it out there and help your patient more, then you know there are places that can give more information, something to help you with your management. That’s important to make sure that we do in our profession, it’s get the best for our patient, going where we need to go, joining forces with other people.
Jack: A hundred percent. Good message. And the one we’ll spread. Going back to your career progression, how did you get that first experience in 2004 at West Coast? What was the original role?
Chris: Probably through the current physio there, Paul Tucker. So, we both worked with athletics and with the weights athletes. He was probably doing a bit with the Paul Walters at the time as well with Paul Burgess, who’s now coaching Paul there. And then Tucker’s moved into that role with the Eagles. And it was probably one of the first full-time physios to go into AFL actually in about 2003. So, I followed up his role in athletics involved with giving things all and around town. When that came up, I jumped in very part-time with him to start with, because it was only role for one full-time physio. As I said, that was miles away. And now every club has two or three full-time physios, full-time sports science, full-time exercise fuse, full-time a bit of everything, really.
Prior to COVID there was a bit more there going, but now we’re tightening the screws. I mean, they want the best out of their athletes, so that was my opportunity through contact, but also working with someone else in different environment. And he wasn’t certainly working with me, but I certainly knew him as colleagues at the time.
Jack: There was trust there.
Chris: Yeah. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity and then jump in and knock stuff up at the start. And if you’ve played footy, if you’ve done things that you’re going into, it makes a difference. You’ve got that bit of respect from that point of view.
Jack: And the in your return to performance point of view, return to play, have you seen a lot of change in the methodology with something like a hamstring strain in your experience in footy?
Chris: In a way. Everyone’s got their different protocols and I guess the problem is if you look at the Orchard Report, which is the number one medical collection of data over years, the hamstring injuries have been less reoccurring, but they are still highly prevalent. They’re still number one injury in AFL. So, I think we’ve become more aware of all the different types, different levels in the central tendon a bit more from the investigating and taking that on board.
Have the rehab protocols changed that much? I think we go for an early intervention a lot more aggressively. We return to sport a lot more aggressively, but I think overall, we’ve done the right thing still for many years, 15–20 years I’ve been involved. The sports science is probably more involved in the last 10 years with the GPS data we are using. I remember having a laser gun we used to get out of the big box in the early stages 15 years ago. And we’d be a bit like a policeman with the laser gun, trying to get their speed and doing the acceleration/deceleration until GPS came very prevalently involved.
So, I think we’re still measuring speed, but not with the same technology we had. We’re still doing all the same things. Repeated strength, plyometric work, high-speed work. I think we know a lot more now that high-speed running is way more important at getting that into you consistently, before returning to sport. Being underdone with the chronic acute training loads is more important than we probably measured before. With all the research that we’ve seen coming out with Tim Gabbett and all the crew that we know they’ve done all that work.
I think we’ve still done it traditionally and hamstring strains have always been there, still are there. There’s no magic pill. And, unfortunately, it’s a bit of a big part of sports that require high speed and Aussie rules is one of those.
Jack: It’s getting faster.
Chris: You’re right. It’s getting faster and quicker. Watching footy games now, I think, ‘How quickly did they get the ball out?’ And it’s great. Intensity is always up there.
So, from hammy perspective, I think we’ve done it in a good while of time, but there’re still ways, where little things are improving and research backing up what we thought maybe 10 years ago. It’s validating what we probably were doing and it’s just being systematic about how you do it. You can’t prevent everything, but we can do our best to try and reduce the risk.
Jack: Awesome. Well said, mate. We’ll get into the personal side now of the podcast, have a bit of fun with these. The get-to-know-Chris-Perkin-side, mate. This first one is which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? You can throw in a book as well, if you’re not a TV guy.
Chris: Probably the opposite for me. I wouldn’t like to say I’m not a book guy, but maybe a bit my ADD doesn’t let me read books that well. So, podcasts, movies are good. One of my favorite movies ‘Pulp Fiction’. That’s got nothing to do with anything here. So, we’ll go into my second favorite movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’.
I think it’s favourite for a lot of people. And with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, overcoming a seemingly impossible mission, being dealt some shitty hand and fought through what in the prison system you might think now they never do. I can’t remember, if it was based on a true story or not now. It should be, it’s such a good movie. But the passion to follow through on a task and a persistence to do what he did. In digging a fricking tunnel with a little pick that took him 10, 15, whatever it was, years to get through.
So, some great messages in that movie. Friendship that lasts forever. Relationship building, understanding human beings and how they tick. For me that movie that maybe was when that old bloke disappeared out of the life he had and nicked himself, he hang himself because he did not know a life outside of prison. So, the emotions from that movie were big for me. I enjoy the friendship and the camaraderie that you see in things like that. And then, as I said, the inspiration to actually follow your passion and get your goal.
Jack: No matter how long it takes.
Chris: Yeah, persistence towards a goal. That’s my favorite movie too. So, I just made some little positives up out of that.
Jack: A hundred percent, mate. You’re selling it well. That makes me want to watch it again.
Chris: And I really like chatting with young blokes at footy clubs ans say, ‘Go through movies I’ve watched.’ And you can’t believe some of the movies they haven’t seen. As I said, maybe I’m getting a bit old, but some of the classic movies that everyone’s watched or series. You’ve got to watch these things. So, if anyone hasn’t them all checked, go and have a look.
Jack: A hundred percent. I can vouch for that. It’s definitely my top 10, for sure. It’s a good long one as well. I don’t think they make movies three hours long anymore.
Chris: No. You can’t see them through. People have got a little bit of issues with social media.
Jack: All series now. 30 minutes, 60 minutes. You almost tied it into that first question, but favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Chris: One of my mum’s. My mum would always say to me ‘Be kind, always be kind to people.’ You be kind to them, they’ll be kind to you. You treat people how you want to be treated, that sort of concept. I think I take that into most of my patients, no matter who they are, where they come from, what their problem is. Whether they’re a Hollywood superstar athlete from the place like the Eagles or Mother Hubbard who walk in with a bung knee, I always try to be a nice, kind, friendly person to people that they can actually relate to. So, I think that’s really important in getting the results out of people, so they can build trust in you.
I think Morgan Freeman had the quote of ‘How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.’ Like he said, if everyone does that, a little bit of random kindness every day of their life, the world’s a better place. And if someone does that to you, you go, ‘Oh, thanks. I didn’t expect that.’ And that’s such a nice feeling to have. So, I think just being kind to people and understanding that you don’t know what’s going on at the back of someone’s life. If they’re a grumpy ass, they might have some battles going on in the background you don’t know about.
And that’s why in my job I hunt that down with people and try to find an underlying, what’s the real issue here that’s not getting them better. Sometimes it’s the battle they’re having in their brain underneath it all. So, it’s important to build relationships. And if you’re a kind person, you’ll get the best out of people you’re dealing with.
Jack: Wow. Great message. And what about on the flip side, in your work life what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry?
Chris: Oh, what makes me angry is a little too long non-weight bearing. That’s one thing when people are coming back out of surgery, I’ll work at that over time. I don’t think it’s good for bone health, and I don’t think it’s good for muscles health. I would like to get some more research done in time off your leg.
I know there’s a reason we need to be careful with injury management. But that’s one of my things, because we’re working at LEFH and if you’re off your feet for 12 weeks, you lose it. You don’t use it, you lose it. That’s the old motto. Bone health and muscle health, tenant health, how do we work on that while loading the body? I don’t like when people aren’t being active and I don’t like it when people are having excuses to not being active. But everyone’s different. You can’t push people.
One of my pet peeves probably is poor management. When I’m seeing second or third opinion people that haven’t given enough for the shit of their patient and just come to the standard average thing that just gets through some 15–20 minute appointment, they just haven’t put enough effort into the patient they’ve had.
And everyone’s different. Everyone has a different model of how they work, but I do not like when people are not using evidence-based things these days, people are using ultrasounds on things. Please, throw it away. Ultrasound machine or electric stimulation, it doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work. It should be out of your clinic. And maybe there’s some new research that shows it does work somewhere. But please, show me. There’s so much more evidence-based stuff out there now in exercise, and I’m passionate about people getting on the right track quicker.
And when I see second or third opinions, that have been dealt the wrong cards, and have been thrown on this medical merry-go-round for a year or two years, and their life’s been put on hold because they haven’t had simple things given to them. That seems so shocking. Get second opinions, big picture stuff sometimes, don’t sweat the small stuff. Get people better and get them being happy again. It pisses me off when people are managed poorly overnight. There you go.
Jack: Now you can tell you’re passionate and you care, which I love to see. What’s your favorite way to spend your day off, mate? COVID-free world, everything’s gone beautifully in the world again in these last two questions.
Chris: Here’s a little bit of a code. So, being a physio, I probably don’t just sit and lie about. I struggle with doing nothing. I could be better at doing that, being mindful of just chilling out, but I struggle doing nothing. So, a perfect day for me would be hitting the gym. I can’t run anymore because of my dodgy hips. But doing some exercise, which involves a bit of cardio. Going down, watching my young bloke play footy. He’s in colts level. Catching up with my old footy mates and old friends, watching my footy team, and at the same time watching my Eagles win by 50 points.
Jack: That’s coming.
Chris: Taking my crazy dog for a walk and sitting by a fire at the end of the day with my footy on the mat, with kids and friends and just chilling out, but also having ticked a few boxes during the day.
Jack: Yeah, a good active day.
Chris: Yeah, but to be able to relax in a way you can reflect on what’s been happening in your life, maybe occasionally.
Jack: And last one for the rest of 2022, mate, what are you excited about? What’s on the horizon for you for this year?
Chris: So, this year continually grow the business. I’m enjoying the more of the performance stuff building, building and exposing that to the world. I’m looking forward to getting back to Rado. If you haven’t been to Rado Stadium, mate, you have to get over to Perth one day.
Jack: I have. But that’s probably been nearly been 10 years, though. So I am due to come back.
Chris: Getting back to Rado is going to happen more towards the sunny season. And I’m lucky enough to be getting out for some lecturing gig over in Switzerland at the end of the year, November. That’ll be my fifth trip over there doing some teaching in the hip and groin with some interpreters. And, I guess, just keeping fit and healthy and keeping people on the right track, getting them in the game, getting them the message of keeping fit and active and healthy. And along the way trying to have some fun.
Jack: And on that one, for those that are managing a busy schedule, how have you managed to be able to work in elite sport for as long as you have from a longevity point of view? And then also to create businesses and do other things outside of sport. How do you juggle your personal and professional life?
Chris: Yeah, very tough. Certainly, relationships are tough because you need to squeeze, there are a lot of people in your life and things like that do suffer over time. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of support with my kids. And so, that’s one part of it, but, again, getting your exercise early in the day, getting up at five o’clock, mate. I’m living on father’s six-hour sleep, even though we tell our elite athletes to live on eight plus. But if you don’t, you’ve got to drop time somewhere, if you want to put extra in. I guess if you’re enjoying what you do at work, it doesn’t seem like work. So, that’s important and a bit of variety. I think the variety.
I’ve been lucky enough that the club were happy to have me part-time as opposed to non-involved. And as a specialist, I can give that opinion, consulting environment, but also have been there long enough to know the system and how it works. And so, the juggle act of involving sport, life, friends, it’s just having a busy life. And I guess things are compromised somewhere and you have to accept that you can’t be everything to everyone and things will change at a time when life changes. So, roll with them, whenever you can.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Well said, thank you. Thank you so much for jumping on and sharing your time with us on a Friday night.
Chris: No, that’s good, mate. I appreciate you doing a great job with your stuff. Some good stuff coming out of it.
Jack: A hundred percent. You get guests like yourself and it makes my life easy. Just share your story, so thank you. And I thank you for everyone watching live. If you tuned in halfway through or at the end, make sure to
watch the whole episode on our YouTube channel and we’ll post the podcast recording for the podcasters out there on the upcoming Tuesday. So, stay tuned.
Our next live chat will be with Michael Crichton, the owner of Melbourne Fitness & Performance. That will be on Friday, the 13th of May. I’ll see you guys then, at 8:30 PM. Cheers, Chris.
Justin is an APA titled sports & exercise physiotherapist. He has worked in the A-league as a physiotherapist for over 10 years and is passionate about all things in sports medicine and high performance.
Highlights of the episode:
Advice to physios in making the most of their mentors and resources
Difference between rehab role and clinic role that physios may be surprised about
His philosophy in communicating with athletes in rehab
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight my guest is Justin Dougherty. He’s the rehabilitation physiotherapist at the Sydney Swans football club. He’s a titled sports and exercise physiotherapist. Lifelong student, he has a passion for all things, sports medicine, and high performance.
Before we start tonight’s episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to strengthen the AFL community. If you liked the show, please show support by finding us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We are on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
Welcome, Justin. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Justin: No worries. Good to be here.
Jack: Let’s dive in the beginning of your career. What age did you discover you had a passion for physiotherapy and working in sports?
Justin: I think, like most sports physios, I grew up being an active kid, playing a lot of sport myself. And I think it was, I was at year 10, actually, when I had my work experience. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved sport and actually spent my youth going down to the local physio clinic. And I guess that was my first introduction to physio. And it sort of kicks out from there and putting the two interests together. And so, I’ve always made it my goal to pursue the sporting side of the physio in my career.
Jack: And were there any challenges early on, in terms of, like you mentioned, getting experience and almost opening up doors while you were doing your degree?
Justin: Yeah. I’d have to say that I’ve been very fortunate. I sort of sought out the sports physio pathway straight off graduation. I sought out the local physio clinic in Newcastle, where I was studying and graduated from, that had the connection with the Newcastle Jets. I had a contract with youth team at the time. So, my thinking was to partner with that clinic and start my career there. With the hopes of one day working my way into that.
And, as I said, I was really lucky. I spent a couple of years doing some work in the MTL-level as the physio and an opening came up with the Newcastle Jets youth team. And that sort of really kick-started my sports physio career.
Jack: Fantastic, mate. That’s great to get that experience. Was that something, when you started working in the field, that you realized that this is definitely something that you’re passionate in, and at that point did you have a particular sport that you were wanting to work in, now that you’re working in AFL? Was that always sort of the focus or are you taking one job at a time, one experience at a time, so to speak?
Justin: Yeah, I played soccer growing up, so that was probably my interest. And I think it’s funny. It’s supposed to be that you always have this dream, and my was to work in professional sport, in soccer. That’s sort of where I wanted to go, given that was my background and that’s what I played.
And, as I said, I was lucky enough to sort of work my way into that and working in A-League quite early on in my career. And I think spending a few years working in A-League, it opened my eyes a little bit to the challenges, I guess, of working in some special codes in Australia. The A-League is relatively under-resourced league compared to, say, AFL, and it obviously comes with the challenges as well.
So, to answer your question, definitely soccer was my initial thinking. And, it being the world game, made me thinking, maybe overseas opportunities can open up there. But, having landed where I am now, I really love where I am and then the structure AFL has played in sports medicine and high-performance department. So, I’m really happy where I am and it’s definitely something that I always wanted to get to.
Jack: And then, early on, who were some strong influences on your career as you were forging your way during studying, but also working at Newcastle?
Justin: So, as I said, I was lucky in that. I think I was out of uni for a couple of years when I first started working for the Newcastle Jets. And the person who gave me the opportunity, his name was Robert Dingwall, who was the head physio at the time, and he was someone who really did influence me in a big way early on. I would say, he gave me an opportunity, but also sort of mentored me through those first couple of years. It’s sink or swim mentality. But he really sort of nurtured me through those early years and taught me a lot.
Going forward, I think, through my post-grad studies I’ve been fortunate to come across a lot of great people and met a lot of people that were working in the professional sporting world. Influences have been made. I think people like Craig Purdam and Jill Cook, two of the Australian sports medicine royalty, definitely had a big impact on, especially now my rehab philosophies and how we go about managing injuries from soft tissue and attendant perspective.
And even now, I work in a great department at the Swans, and there’s a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds, and we challenge each other every day. And over the last two years at the Swans, they really had a big influence on me.
Jack: You mentioned, in the A-League, it’s relative compared to the AFL, it’s not as resourced. Do you think early on, for the physios listening, it’s good to be in those environments where you may not have as much support as some of the other codes, so you do have to maybe go out of your area and assist potentially coach in a drill or an S&C in the gym and get experiences outside of your lane, so to speak, early on to develop understanding in different areas?
Justin: Yeah. I think the practices I had there, like, it’s the best thing I did in that I was always sort of forced to upskill. If I was just in a solid role where I was just a physio doing something in a really highly resourced team, it would’ve been really difficult for me now.
Back in the early days of the A-League, you’d be sort of upskilling in sports science, strength & conditioning, as you said, the football coaching side of things. You’re taking rehab drills and sessions, and you’ve really got to expand your knowledge more broadly, so to speak.
And as I said, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It was a challenge, but it’s really what laid the foundation for me to learn and develop my techniques and also allowed me to realize what I liked doing the most and what my strengths were, which, I would say, is the rehab-side of things, which is where I ended up now.
So yes, I’m resourced now and my advice to those listening, who are starting out their careers, is to get your hands dirty early on. Get out and volunteer or go down to your local footy club and try to get your hands dirty, because yes, it will be difficult and the money might not be there, but it’s really where you’re going to learn the majority of the craft, which can set you up for your career.
Jack: And then with Robin Dingo, like that sort of relationship of him being in the senior team, you working with the youth team, was there a lot of overlap or did you have to sort of call him and contact him outside of hours for him to act like a bit of a soundboard and for you to ask questions? How was that set up? Was it a formal sort of mentorship or was it more something that grew as you guys worked together?
Justin: Rob got a lot of his time for me. As you said, after our phone calls, standing board, whenever I needed him, he was always there. But the other thing was that he offered me the first-time training quite a bit just to observe and to help him out.
So, that’s sort of where I really learned. I just got to operate with him and see how he liked to do things and learn from him that way. As I said, that was invaluable to me at the time. I really didn’t know what I was doing as a young physio and to have someone like that who was willing to give me the time and who’d really cared to develop me. As I said, it really did set me up and it’s something that I’m very grateful for.
Jack: And for those listening, I can imagine starting at that level would be quite daunting, obviously, habits, massive for rewards as well, like a steep learning curve and the best way to learn, like you said, it’s getting experienced early in your career. But there would’ve been some challenging moments where you’re looking after athletes in rehab or you’re diagnosing an injury. There’s pressure in elite sport, of course. So, how would you recommend for developing physios working in that environment to make the most of mentors, like Rob in your instance? How did you make the most of those resources?
Justin: Best advice I can probably give you, is just to know your limitations. I definitely didn’t know everything and I knew that, and I was willing to admit that from an early age. You know that old saying: who know everything to go out of the door? And for me it was more like, if I didn’t know the answer, I wasn’t afraid to call someone and be like, ‘Hey, look, I’ve just seen this injury, not quite sure what’s going on. Do you mind having a second opinion for me?’ And I still do that to this day.
I think that, as a physio, you shouldn’t be ashamed to be asking for help. As I said, I’m still doing that to this day. They were experts like Craig Purdum and Jill Cook for tricky cases. And you can surround yourself with a good network of people that are willing to give you the time. They sort of have been there and have done it and sort of got the answers themselves and experience that’s really, really valuable. And I don’t think that you have to do all on your own. There’s always somebody who can help you.
Jack: That’s great advice, mate. Thanks for sharing. And in terms of building your network base, you mentioned Jill Сook and Craig Purdam. How did you go about developing those relationships as your career progressed?
Justin: I think early on everyone knows who they are just through their status, the sportsmen. And the research that I published was first introduced to both of them through a master’s program. That’s sort of when I first met them and knew who they where. And it’s actually not really until I started at the Swans. You know Damian Raper, the head physio there? Damian came from the IRS himself and had a good working relationship with both Jill and Craig. And I think that’s where the relationship strengthened, we were not afraid to give them a call and ask for advice on some things and as I said, that’s probably where that relationship blossomed, for a want of a better word.
Jack: And in terms of going from a code that you were familiar with, that you played yourself, to a different code in footy. You played football growing up or soccer you played, but did you play Australian rules football or was that a sport that you had to learn on the job?
Justin: Born and bred in New South Wales. So, AFL or footy isn’t on the list, no sports. So, that was a challenge for sure. And it’s probably something that I thought was going to be a limiting factor in me working in the code, having not played it and didn’t have a great grasp of the game myself.
I think I approached it from different aspect in that the body is the body, injuries are injuries and there’s a lot of similarities there. And I sort of brought my experiences with keeping groin and hamstring injuries from soccer backgrounds to the AFL code. And the first thing I did when I was lucky enough to get there, I always upskilled myself in the game, speaking to coaches, speaking to players, really diving into the game myself.
What are the physical demands of the game? What are the different positions? What do they have to do? For my role in the rehab space, that’s really important to know, what the player does and what they need to do and what you need to get them back to. So, I leant on the coaches and the players and stuff around that had that experience in AFL, to bridge that gap.
Jack: That’s an interesting point. It’s something that I’ve noticed in all football codes or team-based athletes, or maybe even practitioners that have come from track and field and different areas. Some people would have that same sort of belief, that I know I would have as well, if I was going for a sport that I didn’t play, ‘Geez, how am I going to go about applying my craft to that area?’ But you broke that down nicely. An injury is an injury, the body is the human body. So, the physiology doesn’t change. You just gotta learn the sport. And coaches sometimes can find that quite refreshing and same with athletes, that you work with practitioners that have got different backgrounds.
So, it almost can be a strength in some sense when you’re actually in the environment, because you’ve got some different things that you can add and contribute to the environment. If you found that like with having a soccer background, maybe it might be connecting with a coach who is interested in soccer, for example, when you get that connection, or a player that also has a passion or feels that they learn a little bit from soccer and apply that to their football.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. In physio department we’ve got, the four of us, we’ve got Lany Enslie, who’ve come from an apple background, myself come from soccer background, Justin Merlino – track and field, and then obviously Damian, who’s had the experiences of medicine and working in AFL. So, you know, that was a deliberate strategy for Damie to sort of get people with different backgrounds, different experiences that can bring a different perspective to things. It’s always good to have that in a team.
And there’s obviously quite a few of the boys who follow the English Premier League and the A-League as well. And so, being able to discuss that with them and give them a bit of an insight on the differences between the two sports. I remember speaking to one of the players once about knives and chimneys, how they can play and what that entails, having a career on a Saturday, playing on Tuesday, flying back, playing on the Estrada in Melbourne, three-day turnaround and all this sort of thing.
Yeah, it’s just really interesting just to see the differences in the athletes and what they’re capable of doing. So, yeah, I’d say it’s definitely been helpful coming from that background, for sure.
Jack: And on that note, soccer is known for quick turnarounds and AFL had to experience that with COVID for the last couple of years.
So, leaning on that experience and knowing what athletes can handle, obviously, they are different sports from a contact point of view, but the demand on the legs and the main physical stressor, you could say, in terms of speed and acceleration change direction, those sorts of loads from groins and hammy point of view. Do you feel like you could lean on that a little bit and have a bit of a better understanding of what’s been going on with the calendar year the last couple of years?
Justin: Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest thing that I realized through soccer, you realize what the boys are capable of doing. As I said, the A-League squads aren’t big, you’ve probably got 15 to 16 high-quality players who play every week or could play every week. And so, often it’s the same players playing back-to-back. And, as I said, here in Champions, they are playing mid-week and weekend for a six to eight week period.
And it’s the same players playing all the time. And so, you’ve got these 34-, 35-year-old players, that are just backing out every three days, running 12, 13 K. And the long haul slots from Asia back to Australia and they manage and they get through. And so, I think that’s something that may be a model to what’s capable and bring that to the AFL. As I said, obviously the big difference is the contact piece. In AFL it really does take the body longer to recover from, but it also does make you… And the COVID period, the changes in schedule just show that you can do it, and if you have to do it, the body will find a way to do it.
I think it’s just probably comes back to what you’re used to doing and how you train. And if you’re used to training three days a week for 10 years, then you enter the week and that’s what you’re going to be comfortable doing and trying a full pitch session in that might be difficult. But if you build it up slowly and expose the players to a little bit more training load, that ultimately might be a protective thing.
And that’s probably something that I could, again, lean on from my experiences in soccer, is that just because you’ve got not the right joints or something like that, it doesn’t mean you can’t train. That’s probably something that we are quite big on at the Swans is what can you do and not what can’t you do.
Jack: Yeah. A hundred percent. And what about from an application point of view and being a successful candidate. So, you’ve got that with the Newcastle gig and then Sydney Swans. For physiotherapists that are going out there and wanting to put their best foot forward, how do you prepare yourself for either an interview or maybe the first call with someone who you’re applying to, whether it be the head physio or a coach that you’re speaking to? What are some of your ways that you try and work on your philosophy and going with to clear your mind?
Justin: I think the first time that happened for me, the Newcastle job was a little bit organic. I went from the youth team into the first team after Rob left. And so that was a bit of a smooth transition, but when the Melbourne victory position became available and I was contacted about that, it was obviously nerve-wracking to start with.
But I think the first thing you can do is get your philosophy in place and get your ideas together. You want to go there and present something to them and sort of show them: this is how I operate, and this is what I can bring to the table or the department. You’re not selling yourself, but you’re just showing: this is what I believe in, this is how I can help and how I can fit in.
And I think the other big thing is showing that you want to be part of a team, you want to work with people. That’s another really big thing. You’re working with other people, you want to be able to lean on them and engage with them, rather than just, as I said, do things on your own and have a bit of a solid view on things. So, these are probably the two main things, I’d say, are important if you try going for an interview.
And then the first thing is just understanding what role you’re applying for. Just as an example, like for me applying for a rehab physio role. I wasn’t really going to go into the interview and talk about my experiences so much as the head physio and push that bond so much, because I’m applying for the role because rehab is something I’m interested in. So, that’s something that I pushed. And I leant on my experiences in the rehab space at my previous jobs, rather than just, ‘I’ve been the head physio here for this amount of years. And I’ve seen this and this.’ It was more in terms of: these are the tricky injuries I’ve had and this is how I managed them and these are my strengths and limitations from a rehab sense. So, that’s another thing. Just understanding the job you’re applying for and tailoring your responses to that.
Jack: I love that, mate. That’s great advice for anyone applying as a strength & conditioning coach or physio. Showcasing how you’re a team player and you can work in environment, like you said, fit into the environment. And understanding the role. I think we can all get caught up in all the experiences that you may have done before that point, but if it doesn’t apply to what they are looking for, like you said, you’ve got to contribute to the club. That’s ultimately what they’re looking for, the best candidate to help through the club and be able to serve the athletes. Focus your energy on that. Then you’re almost helping them make the decision.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. One of the things I’ve learned in Swans over the years I’ve been there, it’s play your role. And I think that’s something that is vitally important in all performance and sports medicine, that A – we know our role, and B – play that role. It doesn’t mean that we can’t work with the S&Cs and maybe give them a bit of feedback or advice in the program, but it’s just knowing what your role is and what you’re going to bring to the team. And, as I said, playing that role.
Jack: And what about self-development? What are some of your favorite ways to sharpen your craft as a practitioner?
Justin: I think for me the first thing was study. As I said, your undergraduate degree only gets you so far. So, the first thing I wanted to do as early as I could was get a load of experience and as much experience as I could fresh out of uni, but also I was pretty keen to get into the master’s program. So, I did Sports Physio Master’s through La Trobe University. And that’s something that progressed me clinically, but the main way I develop my skills is just purely through communicating with other people that are working in the field.
As I said, I’m not afraid to reach out to other people and ask them for advice, ask them how they do things. I’m learning every day from the people I’m working around. I’ve got Jody, who’s Health Performance major and Jody’s background’s at Richmond. And I constantly ask him, ‘How you do things at Richmond? And how would you approach this?’ He’s been in the rehab role as well. Shaun Maynor, a strength coach with background in rugby union. Again, just asking him, ‘When you were in rugby union, how did you approach this?’
So, that’s probably where I actually pick up the most, it’s purely through conversations and discussing things with our network. I think a lot of people find that there’s a lot of people out there that are willing to help and offer advice. So, that’s definitely something that I’d say is the main way I sharpen my focus or develop my skills.
Jack: What about from a highlights point of view, mate? Like over your career to this point, what do you look back most fondly?
Justin: I think a couple stand out. The 2018 early season for me was a highlight. I was in Newcastle Jets at the time and we’d been through a bit of a rough patch. We’ve been through two owners and a handful of coaches. And we’d gone from being sort of a wooden spoon ended up at the bottom of the table to then Ernie Merrick came in and really turned the club around.
And we sort of went on this runway. We were winning more often, we ended up sitting at the table and made it all the way to the Grand Final. It’s still something that I look back on as one of the best years of my career. Not just because of the success that we had. But because of the way the success was manufactured, I guess. It wasn’t through luck, it was through design. He really brought this philosophy to the club. That was new and it really changed the way that we did things.
I think the other ones that stand out are the Championship campaign when I was with no victory. It’s that experience when you are playing games in front of sold-out stadiums in Guangzhou, in China, and in Korea, in Seul. And as I said, visiting these places and being fortunate enough to work over there is something that I’ll never forget.
I think that in more recent years in AFL there is probably one that really stands out to me. And that was last year, I remember in the Hub we had the game against GWS. And it was about half an hour before kickoff, and we had four players rolled out through being close contacts, especially halfway through the warmup. And yeah, just that whole chaos was something that I’ll never forget.
And just the way that John Lowman and the coaching staff just turned it into a positive straightaway and said, ‘Heck with this, we’ve got four other players who can come in and do the job.’ And we ended up going on after sliced up and we went on to win the game. And it’s something that still it’s probably the highlight of the whole season for me. It’s just this game that will probably never happen again, the circumstances and how everybody reacted to that adversity and sort of shrugged it off and took it as a positive and got the results.
Jack: That’s awesome. Testament to good leadership there. And culture for those players stepping up.
You mentioned the turnover of owners at Newcastle at the time and instability of staff, including coaches. For those that haven’t worked in A-League, how does it work? You hear stories of English Premier League, where a new manager means new staff. Are you contracted to the club or are you contracted to the coach? Did you have insecurities during those phases of your job security or, if you were doing a good job, that was taken care of, so to speak?
Justin: No, you definitely don’t feel safe. I think, soccer or football is a lot more cutthroat than AFL or Rugby League and clubs are obviously a little bit quicker to pull the trigger on firing a manager, if they are not getting the success they want.
As medical staff we are a little bit more independent of the coach and we do work for the club, so we have contract to the club. But in saying that, I have seen it happen before where new coach comes in and just brings his own staff in, and there’s nothing you can do about it, whether you’re doing a good job or not.
So, I think for me they were very challenging times where you’re not quite sure if you’re going to have a job and for how long. And you do second guess yourself a little bit, but also start having backups in place just in case that tap on the shoulder does come.
It’s not something that’s fun. It’s not something that I hope many people need to go through. But at least that means that again, I think it highlights, if you are doing a good job and you’re giving your best, then you would hope that in more circumstances than not that you will keep your job and the club sort of can see the value you add and the benefit you can bring.
Jack: On that it’s a good segue for challenges made in you career so far. What are some major challenges that you’ve faced and what have you learned from it? If any?
Justin: I guess it started from that. From the changes of coaches and sitting there, not knowing if you’ve got a job or not. That’s probably one big challenge.
But I think the other thing for me was when I moved from Newcastle down to Melbourne with my partner and then wife at that time to basically take up a job with Melbourne Victory. And so, for me, I was comfortable in Newcastle. I was settled, loved where I lived, family just up the road. And we decided to pack up and move down to Melbourne, which was a bit of a step that I’d always wanted to take, it’s something that always challenges you.
Going to a new city where we didn’t really know anyone was difficult and moving to a club of the status of Melbourne Victory with the success they’ve had at that time had its own pressures and expectations. But I guess, the learnings from that was just to embrace it. How lucky I am to do what I do and be able to do that, to pack up and move and experience a new city through my job. So, that was a great experience. And we were really glad that we did that.
Other challenges that I’ve faced along the way, there’s always a tricky injury that you run into. And, as I said, early on in my career I was always thinking I’d rather find a solution, rather than dwell on the problem. Just try and find the solution. And you might have a tricky injury or you have a recurrent injury, and for that 24-hour period it’s the worst experience of your life, doom and gloom.
But I very quickly shifted my focus towards finding a solution and reaching out to other people who may have seen it before, or, again, ask for advice. I think that’s something that I can’t really emphasize that enough, and I’ve mentioned it a few times, but just don’t be afraid to reach out to other people and ask for help. You’re gonna be held in a high regard for doing that rather than not and continually making the same mistakes.
So, they’re probably the challanges I’ve faced and the learnings from them.
Jack: Thanks for sharing. And on the different roles that you’ve had from physiotherapist in the youth academies, from head physio Mevitrio Karen Rehab Physio. So, you’ve experienced many different roles that a physiotherapist can do in elite sport. From the rehab point of view, where you’re sort of bridging that gap between acute management all the way to taking them back to return to performance, what are some areas that you feel physiotherapists may be surprised about, when you’re taking on a rehab role compared to being a physiotherapist in a clinic?
Justin: I’d say the first thing is just the amount of strength & conditioning and sports science knowledge that you need to have, or that helps you in those roles. As I said, I think in a clinic, you may get caught in this manual therapy model mindset. Whereas in the rehab space, that’s still a big tool to use, but it’s very much exercise therapy and exercise progression.
So, I guess, expanding your knowledge in that, was something that I had to do from the start. You really have to upskill your prescription and fine-tune your rehab philosophies and focuses. Probably the biggest difference between a rehab role and your non-default clinical role.
Jack: And what are some of the best ways to do that? If let’s say someone has gone from working in the clinic for a number of years and they’re really sound physio-therapist and then working for themselves and running their own practice, client base, and then working in a team and you are involved in, like you mentioned, sports science, so analyzing GPS, maybe working out the worst case scenario, knowing their average game output, but also being able to take them through the gym progressions. And then also, like you mentioned, it’s still treating and so you are across everything. And then in some circumstances involving the coaches as well. So, what are some of your favorite ways to try and develop those areas that you may not get experience in the clinic?
Justin: Again, I think, there’s obviously the academic group. You can do things like actual accreditation or keep going and do a post-graduate in strength & conditioning course, if that’s the way you want it to go.
I didn’t do that, I actually learnt on the job, so to speak. So, for me, it was more about, as I said, making a network of people in those areas and leaning on experts in those fields. Following them on Twitter, reading their research and staying up to date with literature. That’s definitely something that I did a lot of early on. I read a lot, upskilled. There’re plenty of textbooks out there that you can look for. And that will give you some pointers in that direction as well.
But for me, from strength & conditioning side of things, I’ve been really lucky to work with a number of great S&C coaches, and it’s just asking them questions and picking up things as you go. In my Master’s course, obviously we got quite a bit of that as well, which helped with that skill set. But from S&C side again, it’s just literature. There’s plenty of literature out there on AFL and Mesh domain and the worst case scenarios, and sprint volumes and all that sort of stuff.
But even speaking to a sports scientist and saying, ‘Hey, look, this isn’t my area of expertise, but can you help me understand what these metrics mean?’ Or ‘What does high speed running mean for this person?’ And ‘What’s an accel, what’s a decel, change direction?’ All those sort of metrics that you’re looking at throughout the rehab process.
So, as I said, it’s either an academic way or upskilling and reading or just reaching out to people that are working in those fields and asking them for their opinion or their help on it.
Jack: You mentioned earlier, the challenges that the athlete goes through when they’ve had an injury and particularly those first 24 hours. What’s part of your philosophy in terms of communicating with an athlete once they’re injured and you’re looking after them, so they’re in the rehab group? What do you find are some successful ways to support that athlete, but also maybe respect their space? Take us through the art of the coaching side of things.
Justin: Everyone goes through a grieving process and the severity of the injury might determine how long those processes are. I’ve seen athletes that might have a season-long injury and you always need to let them go through that anger phase and denial and all those phases that they’re going to go through, it’s normal. And you almost just have to be there and support them through that.
And then when the time is right, it’s trying to redirect their focus towards the rehab and saying, ‘Hey, look, this is great opportunity for you to work on things you weren’t good at before.’ I always say to the athletes that rehab’s an opportunity to develop. Maybe they might’ve had a leg injury and they’re going to be off for a little bit. But you can work on upper body strengths, if that’s something that the coaches want to work on with them, or if that’s something they want to develop. So again, just sort of redirecting their focus a little bit towards things that they can do and what they are capable of doing.
And probably in case of longer-term injury, this is also just making sure that they do have something else to focus on. A lot of younger players especially, their life is almost defined by their sport. And so, when that’s taken away from them, they really struggle. So, we’re really lucky in the AFL, where there’s a great support network around the player in that sort of wellbeing and wellness space.
But maybe you can say, ‘Have you thought about taking up some study?’ Or someone might be already studying and you can say, ‘This is a great opportunity for you to focus on that.’ So, it helps them get away from their life being defined by the injury and by not playing their sport, and get out of their head a little bit and focus on things that they can do and redirecting their focus, as I said.
Jack: And what about recurrence and a situation where it might not be a significant setback, but it hasn’t been linear, which is, I imagine, quite common in rehabilitation? How do you go about supporting that athlete and knowing that they’re still on the same timeline, or maybe only set back by a week, reassuring them and, like you mentioned, that refocus? Is that showing some video or is it a reporting? What are some ways that you can get an athlete back on track and give them that positive mindset?
Justin: I guess it depends on the context around that. But if they’re coming back from a hammy strain and they do have a recurrence in rehab early on, when they are getting back into training, I guess the one thing that the athlete wants to know is why. And I think the earlier you can answer that question for them, the better it’s gonna be. One thing that you always want to make sure is that you keep that trust with the athlete and they trust what you’re doing.
And, as I said, it might be just ‘Look, we’ve done everything by the book and we’ve followed what evidence says is the best way to rehabilitate this injury. You’ve got back and, unfortunately, there’s been a recurrence. So, we’re going to wait and look at alternative ways. We’re going to, as I said, reach out to these experts in these fields and try and see if there’s another way we can approach it.’ Sometimes just that is enough to help them mentally get through it. Knowing that you are doing everything for them. And you’re giving them every chance they had at getting better.
And I think the other piece on it is just, if you set expectations early that rehab isn’t linear, because I haven’t seen many rehabs where it’s a smooth, gradual progression and everything goes the way you want it to. There’s always going to be up days, down days, small setbacks and also some winds on the way where things are moving quicker. And if we set that expectation from the start and communicate that to the player that that’s probably what the process is gonna look like, that can definitely help them.
And then the third thing I was gonna say, sometimes it’s just a conversation with a fellow athlete, who’s been through it. Knowing that you’re still going to get there, things are going to be okay and you’re going to get through this. And sometimes it’s just reaching out to a fellow teammate, who’s been through that same experience and had a recurrent hamstring or had a second ACL injury or something like that, and got back successfully. And even that is enough to get them to refocus.
Jack: That’s amazing advice, mate. And what about, from the rehab practitioners point of view, how do you go about managing that pressure and that stress of it might be a recurrence or something hasn’t quite gone to plan and and you’re reviewing things and naturally there’s going to be just stresses within that? How do you go about managing those stress levels?
Justin: Do you mean with the athlete or with the staff?
Jack: With yourself and then, I guess, within your own team as well, high-performance medical team?
Justin: So again, for me, if something like that did happen, the first thing I’d do is reflect. You can pick up the rehab and go through it with a fine tooth comb and think: have we done everything correctly, have we followed our philosophies and have we stuck to the structure that we have in place? And then, as I said, if the answer to that question is no, we didn’t follow our philosophy, then there’s the first problem. If the answer is yes, we did follow our philosophy, then, as I said, that’s where we need to be thinking a bit more laterally and thinking outside the box.
When you’re working in a department, it’s always important to involve the high performance team, doctors, physios, transitioning sport scientists, dietetics, psychologist, just everyone around them needs to be involved in the rehab process. And what we would do is, if there was something that didn’t go the way I wanted it to, or there was a setback, we would sit down with the team and discuss it and go ‘Well, what’s happened here?’
And again, sometimes for me to actually sit back and get external feedback on ‘Have you thought of doing this?’, or ‘Maybe you should look at this?’, or ‘That can actually be really helpful as well.’ Because sometimes when you’re in a rehab for a period of time, you can get a little bit narrow focus, for want of a better word. And sometimes when someone with the fresh set of eyes is running their eye over the program, they begin to say things that you probably haven’t picked up in the first place, or again, they’re gonna be looking at you a bit more laterally anyway. So, that’s something that I find really helpful.
Jack: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, mate. And it’s good to get that, no matter what your role, I imagine, by leaning on others and team members that might have a different perspective and different experiences to shed light on an area. So, thanks for sharing that.
And then what about getting the information from the athlete? Let’s say they’ve either just got injured for the first time and, like you mentioned, you want to know the why, the athlete’s gonna want to know the why. So, you’ve got your detective hat on. What are some of the key questions from the athlete’s perspective, knowing what state they were going into from a mental point of view or what’s going on with their life or sleep and these other contributing factors to breakdown? What are some key questions, do you think, are important for physios to ask?
Justin: We’re a little bit lucky in that we collect the data, so we can look at it that way. Your wellness values, your sleep, your stress, your muscle soreness and all that. That’s definitely something that you look at.
You can communicate with the player. It is important to know what else might’ve been happening in their lives. Say, through a recurring hamstring and then after the fact they tell you ‘Oh, yeah, I moved weights for those.’ But that might be something that comes into it. It might be someone who their wife has just given birth and their sleep patterns are all over the place. So, I think it is really important to have that conversation with the athlete about ‘Is there anything else going on that side of here that may be contributing to that?’
Again, you’ve got to be a little bit careful, when you ask that question. You’ve obviously got to have a good relationship with the player, and not do it from an interrogation perspective. But throughout that process of rehab you’re spending a lot of time with the player. I would hope that I’d know all that stuff just through general chit-chat and conversation about what’s going on in their life. And you hope that just through general discussions that they’re gonna open up about those sorts of things and you can be aware of it.
But if not, then, as I said, it might be asking somebody else who’s close to them. ‘Hey, how has so-and-so been at home?’ You know, they might live together. ‘How are they at home? Do they seem themselves?’ Speaking to other people that are around them a lot can also give you a bit of insight as to how they’re actually doing.
Again, I mentioned the stress and then the mental and psychological state that players might be in. And you might not see that. And as I said, it might be just speaking to their housemates, speaking to their partner. ‘Is there anything else going on? How are they doing at home? Are they struggling?’ You might have a player who says everything’s fun and rays, when they see you, but behind the scene, they’re really struggling with it all. And you might need to take that into consideration in terms of referring on, speaking to the doctors and team around them. And sort of helping them holistically.
Jack: With that, like you mentioned, you spend a lot of time with them and you’re picking up a lot of information from the athlete. Plus, you’ve got the objective-subjective data to lean on as well. When you’re going about your weekly planning, and let’s say there’s a little bit of pressure with bringing that athlete back, maybe it’s September, from the coaches to bring them back earlier, than what you would like. Maybe they want a full week and it needs to be a three week.
What would you be most concerned about, things like lifestyle stress or clinical assessment, maybe strengthened numbers in the gym? What would be some big markers that you’d feel if they’re not hitting, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince the coach they’re going to be ready to be able to play a full game in three weeks?
Justin: First and foremost, that’d probably be clinical markers. So, I’ll be thinking of things like strengths, lengths, triangular motion. That’d probably be the first things I’ll hang my hat on. If someone’s only got 50% strength on their hamstring after the injury and they’re expected to play in a week, chances are that’s going to be unlikely. That’s probably the first thing I’d go through is to see, clinically what do they look like? How are they progressing?
If all of the clinical tests are okay, I’d probably then start leaning on the loading data a little bit, and I’d be speaking about GPS. And if you don’t have access to GPS, it’s just probably having an understanding of how fast do they run? How often have they run fast? We’ve talked about a hamstring as an example. What distances have they hit? How many times do they keep their footy? How that looks at speed? All those sorts of things that you take into consideration that might limit your decision as to whether or not they should or shouldn’t play.
And then, if all of that looks good, then you start thinking about ‘Is there any other reason why this person shouldn’t play?’ If their loading data sets up and they train fully, and the clinical markers look good, you might then look at the wellness data and start saying, ‘Well, is there any trend here? Is stress through the roof? Are they really sleeping poorly? Or are they starting to develop an illness? Is there some other reason as to why they might come unstuck if they do return to play?’
So, I’d probably say clinical markers first, loading data is obviously important. And then probably the wellness data comes after that.
Jack: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And then on the flip side, and the last one before we go into the larger part of the podcast, the get-to-know-you section.
If you’ve got an athlete that is hitting all your markers and all your clinical assessments, and they’re going really well from a physical point of view, however, they’re not confident within themselves, what are some methods that you’ve leant on in those circumstances to try and boost confidence and boost their self-esteem to return to play?
Justin: That’s a really important point. And just sort of reflecting on the question you asked earlier, one thing I didn’t say is that athlete’s readiness is a huge indicator of readiness to return. And there’s obviously quite a bit of literature around that coming out now.
So, I would actually say that even if you have ticked all your boxes, and the athlete’s saying, ‘I don’t quite feel ready’, that is something that probably would ring alarm bells. And it would just make you think why. Knowing athlete would help. If they are an athlete who is typically an overreporter and an anxious person generally, and maybe they’ve got a bit of performance anxiety, and that may be the reason they don’t want to go back to play, then that’s something that you might target and tell them, ‘You look really good at the moment.’ Get the coaches involved. ‘You’re looking great. I’m really happy with how you’re playing and training.’
That’s probably one angle I’d go at. Get coaches involved and then get them to help build confidence. It’s all good for your physio or an S&C to say, ‘Mate, you look great,’ but to hear it from the head coach or line coach, that support goes a long way.
The other thing is, again, just asking why they don’t feel like they’re ready. And that might help you as well. They might say, ‘Look, I know that I’m strong, but I’ve still got some symptoms when I do exercises.’ And that might perk up your ears a little bit to something that maybe you’ve missed through your clinical assessments or something that you might want to investigate a little bit further.
But if you’re pretty confident as a medical practitioner, that the injurie’s healed or it’s as healed as it’s going to be, then it’s all about relaying that confidence to the player and saying, ‘Hey, look, we’re really happy with it. You’ve done all the things.’ You might want to show them their GPS data. ‘Look, mate, you’ve sprinted, you had a hundred percent of the max velocity, you’ve changed direction maximally, you’ve done a match load in one-on-one skill sessions and controlled rehab. You’ve done three training sessions. You’re ready to go.’ So, giving them the data models to help them realize that they’re ready or at least boost their confidence a little bit.
But, as I said, it’s definitely something that I personally take into consideration quite a bit in that return to play discussion.
Jack: Thanks, mate. You can see how much is involved in your current role. And you mentioned how important it is to be a team player and be across all the different cohorts within the footy club. Not only for your sake, but also for the athlete’s sake. So you can lean on all those different roles in helping with return to performance. So, yes, dropping gems all the way through for physiotherapists listening in.
But looking back at your career now, going back to being a head physio, do you feel like the rehab role is a great development role for physiotherapists to then come into a leadership position? Because you’ve done the head physio role and then now you’re going to rehab, do you feel like it helps being in those sort of leadership positions, once you’ve been a rehab physiotherapist?
Justin: Yeah, definitely. I think, probably the more natural evolution would be going to, say, a rehab role and then into a head physio. For me it was more getting the exposure in a different sport and being able to focus on something that I really love and the rehab space was my reason for going into this role.
I think any experience, whether it’s as a massage therapist, volunteering with the first team, or being a sports science intern with the first team, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. If you’re in that environment or around it, you’re still going to learn, you’re still going to develop your skill set.
So, yeah, as I said, I think it matters what that pathway looks like, but getting any exposure to it definitely helps. If you’re going into rehab role first, the benefit of that is you can really just focus on rehab and start to fine tune your philosophies and intrinsic skill set with different injuries.
So, that’s something that can help you for then, if you do make that step up to be a head physio, that you already got that understanding, and you’ve had that experience of fine tuning the rehab space. And then the other side of it comes in, obviously, the diagnostics and the management side of things and communication with coaches and managing up, so to speak, that sort of comes into it.
As I said, any experience in a higher position is integral. And it doesn’t matter what it is. Like, as I said, we used to get physio students from the university of Newcastle to come in and help with a massage in the A-League. And even that was good experience for them, because then we ran PD research and sort of educate them a little bit on how we go about doing things. So, even though they are here to be a massage therapist and to help out there, they’re still gonna see how we operate on a day-to-day basis. So, yeah. Any experience is valuable.
Jack: All right. We’ll move into the get-to-know-you section now, mate. So, we can have a bit of fun with this. But which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? You can throw in books as well.
Justin: Difficult one to answer. I was thinking about it. More recently I watched the Michael Jordan documentary. ‘The Last Dance’ was a phenomenal docuseries. And just seeing the insight into an elite mentality of almost how neurotic someone of that level is, and how obsessed they are with sort of getting to the peak of their sport.
And I guess too much of that is actually the Rinaldo documentary. If anyone hasn’t seen that, again, it’s just sort of gives you a bit of an insight into his elite mentality and how he goes about being the best in his sport.
They are probably two that I can think of that really stand out to me and are influential just in the way that you see an insight into their daily operations, but just the mentality that these people at the top of their game have.
Jack: I didn’t even know there was a Rinaldo one. I’ll have to check that out.
Justin: On Netflix.
Jack: Your favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Justin: I’m not really a quote guy, to be honest. I think life motto is probably ‘don’t take anything for granted’. I would say, I’m probably very lucky to be doing what I do. I love what I do, and I’m very lucky to work in sport every day and work with professional athletes.
And it’s not something that I do lightly. I’m really proud of what I do, but also very lucky to be doing what I do. And then I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s something that, whether it’s an athlete or a physio, or S&C, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s just never take anything for granted, because life is short and you never know what can happen.
Just don’t take anything for granted and make the most of it.
Jack: Well said, mate. And what about pet peeves in your work life? What makes you angry?
Justin: I’m going to say whinge. I probably saw it a little bit. I just said about not taking things for granted, and probably one of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear a professional athlete who gets to come in every day and kick a footy around whinge at what they have to do. ‘Oh no, I’ll go to bed around two o’clock today.’ And it’s like, ‘Mate, you don’t really realize how good you’ve got it and how many people would kill to have this position.’ So, probably my biggest pet peeve at work is just whinge and people that don’t appreciate what they’ve got.
Jack: And in COVID free world, which we’re pretty close to being in now, what’s your favorite way of spending your day off?
Justin: Other than catching up on work? It’s probably, I like to get out on a bike, get for a ride where I can. Also, just staying at home with my wife and family and just making the most of the time together. You know, working in sport days off are few and far between at times. So, it’s probably staying with your loved ones and family as much as you can, when you can.
Jack: And what about your favourite holiday destination?
Justin: Probably, that’s Italy. Only been there once. But I absolutely loved it. And the architecture, the food, everything about it I loved. And it’s probably first on my list to head back to when we’re able to.
Jack: Absolutely. It’s definitely on my list. I haven’t been there yet and I’ve heard it’s fantastic. So, I have to get there at some point.
Well, thank you so much for jumping on and sharing with us your experiences in elite sport and how you’ve got the opportunities that you’ve worked hard for. And also some things that have worked for you in your field and in the experiences that you’ve got and also some learnings as well.
So, no doubt for physios, S&Cs, anyone that wants to be in sport, it has been massively beneficial and I’ve learnt a lot from it, mate. So, thanks so much for jumping on. And, hopefully, some developing athletes as well will have a bit more awareness of when they next whinge, how good they’ve actually got it. Couldn’t agree with you more, mate. That’s definitely a pet peeve of mine.
But talk us through what are you excited about for 2022? What’s on the horizon for you?
Justin: I think, obviously, work-wise, it’s seeing just how far this young Bloods can go, seeing how far this team can take it this year. That’s something that I’m definitely excited about. And outside of that, it’s probably international travel again, which has just been off the radar for a while. So, looking forward to, hopefully, getting away.
Jack: And for those that want to reach out and maybe ask any questions or get in touch, what’s the best way to connect with you? Is it socials, email?
Justin: Shoot me a message on LinkedIn. It’s probably the easiest way to contact me. I check it semi-regularly. It goes without saying, but it might take me a couple of days to get back to you. Just given travel, et cetera. So, LinkedIn’s probably the easiest way, mate. But I can flick through my email after this and people are more than welcome to contact me via email as well.
Jack: Easy. I’ll add the LinkedIn in the show notes for anyone listening while driving.
Thanks again, mate, for jumping on. For those that are tuned into the live show later on the podcast, make sure to listen to the very start. You can watch this, it’s on our YouTube channel and then we’ll be releasing it on our podcast on Tuesday next week. So, stay tuned. We’ll release the podcast on Tuesday and you’ll have access to that and any of your favorite podcast directories.
But thanks again, Justin, for jumping on. Looking forward to seeing what the Bloods can do and, hopefully, have some success and Hayden can get involved with as well. Thank you so much for jumping on and looking forward to seeing what you can do for the rest of your career as well, mate. No doubt, it’s only the very beginning of a great career in elite sport.
Justin: Awesome, mate. Thanks for having me. And take care.
Jack: For those that want to watch our next live chat, we’re actually going to do a monthly collaborated event with AFL high performance managers next Friday. So, it will be the 29th of April. We’ll be at the same time, at 8:30 Australian Eastern Standard Time. So, we’ll post a link on our social. See you, guys, then.
Jack: Next, we have Tim Schleiger the Director of the Sports Clinic of Melbourne. He is located in Prahran. His topic is discussing the key to strong working relationships between physio therapists and strength conditioning coaches. Welcome Tim.
Tim: Thanks for having me Jack. First and foremost, well done on getting the group together like you’ve done a terrific job in putting together a group of guys in a pretty short period of time. So well done.
Jack: Nah, thanks mate I’m absolutely loving the panel that we have and, and just, yeah, hosting this event made it work in a treat and no doubt, the ones that are tuned in we’re still got 30 listeners of listening through the whole way. So I load onto you guys and, and thanks to the whole panel for jumping on mate but we’ll jump in folks.
Tim: It’s good to have Woody back. Cause it looks like he was starting to atrophy a bit. So he’s obviously got some nutrition onboard there. Yeah. Bravo. So look, I also come in with another side tonight quickly, Jack, and that’s just a safe for those of you that were a part of the Victorian shit show the last couple of years.
It brings me a lot of joy just to see everyone back yeah, obviously after the role that a tiny Dougherty and I, and a few others played going from GMO owners and physio clinic owners to all of a sudden becoming gym lobbyists and political activists and doing negotiations with government. It’s just so good to see how an underappreciated industry has come back to life.
I know there’s a range of outcomes in terms of some gyms have gone particularly well, some haven’t, but it’s great to see you guys who are passionate about the industry back on track and I know Woody tends to call me dad a lot. So I do sort of feel a little bit like the old bloke here who’s, you know, when I hear about, you know, experiences from the, the mid 2000s, I’m thinking, geez, I was already. You know, 15 years into it at that point, but it’s, it’s just so good to see a great group here. So, so well done to all of you that you’re you’re back and you’re open and you got.
Jack: Mate the dawn you, you saved us. He kept us batting NAB. Appreciate your work, Tim. And I was lucky enough to get in contact with you through a local colleague. And, and I know as soon as things were whispers were happening you’re the first man to, to get onto the call. And you did a great job of keeping us in the loop with everything, everyone working in gyms.
So I really appreciate your work. Well, we’ll get into, into the topic mate. We’ll start with tips for strength & conditioning coaches that are listening in that are have struggle in the workplace to connect or get on the same page with their medical teammates.
Well, I think so when we started this sort of movement in it was 1995, so ESSA hadn’t been sort of invented at that time.
And we took in the first ever exercise physiologists graduates. And there was nowhere else for an exercise physiologist to go, except for our business, because of the relationships we created with orthopedic surgeons that were forward thinking about gang loop.
And when I say these Chris, cause we’ve got physios and S&Cs and everyone on board, it was just that thing of just going sometimes the minute stuff around just spending too much time doing a clam and doing all that sort of stuff wasn’t relevant.
And just following up a good old glute max and having a femoral head seat better in a hip joint around a whole host of things. There was, there was components that, we were able to offer at the time as an S&C based business with physios in it, which were driven from an S&C, but someone that was very passionate about movement training and sports specific training, et cetera, as a you know, NSL soccer player that had failed through, you know, what was I pay at the time, but it was the old inguinal hernias. I felt really passionate about bringing in all sorts of things.
We, you know through bough and bud checking and we bought yogurt in 1996, you know, and all these different things that you know are now commonplace. And as you know, Jack you’ve had the history lesson from you about where everything comes from. I think the key component is I use a saying a lot and I say, seek first to understand where someone comes from.
So I think the beauty of what we’re talking about today is we’ve got these really wonderful strength and conditioning coaches who have such amazing strengths. And then like in our clinic, we’ve got, you know, five or six of those. And then we who are working in AFL systems and so forth. And then we’ve also got you know, it’s seven or eight physiotherapists as well.
And the soft caps being good to us. We’ve been at a pinch, a couple of guys that, you know, with young families, haven’t perhaps been able to you know, commit to a football club on that level. And so then it’s enabled us to sort of talk about that Venn diagram where, you know, if we understand where the strength and conditioning coach is coming from, and if we understand where the physiotherapist is coming from, we know that from an S&C component that a physio therapist is probably going to be more often than not conservative with some things. And we know that probably traditionally the S&C person without perhaps the injury history component in where their trainings come from is possibly going to be trying to push the envelope.
Then you’ve got, you’ve got your sports med docs, you know, high-performance coaches, and also we look at the dynamic and especially, we’ve certainly seen that in the last five years is everyone’s trying to look after their job in the high-performance environment. And so it can, you know, if the club’s doing well and fantastic, but if the clubs struggling, then obviously that can become somewhat of a shit show.
So, we’re in private practice now. So by developing relationships, by understanding whether it’s within the clinic, I think that Venn diagram, rather than there only being a small meeting point, what I like to talk about is that Venn diagram meeting becomes bigger because how wonderful I know with the physios in my clinic, if Chris could know, I didn’t have to fill in the gaps with this S&C because he’s across all that sort of stuff.
He’s not only done his masters, he’s a good programmer, but because Chris knows he, that S&C is in his locker. He spent a bit of time and he knows that he’s going to get a relevant activation program relevant for that person, whether it’s firing up a QF or getting a glutamine going or whatever the case is in order to get a glute max hip hinge movement done properly and efficiently, maybe with the Meyer has done a cellar release earlier.
If Chris knows that’s being done, then he can get on with more important stuff to and so I think the physio needs to strive to also try and find more S&Cs who can fill the middle of that Venn diagram, but also the same way the S&Cs need to go well, look, it’s one thing to me that, and reach out to a physiotherapist from private practice, but also don’t spend some time.
You know, as you know, as each of you, I think I’ve talked about tonight where you’ve said, you know, don’t be cagey with your information, you know, 28 years in, you know, anyone I’ve seen has been cagey with their desire to share knowledge over time. Isn’t still in the industry or they got tired of it.
And I think the one thing we haven’t touched on, which I think You know Durham, you touched on it a little bit, and I think Jared, as well as like, you’re trying to feed those little minuscule bits into an already overloaded week through communication, you can start to understand it. And certainly for me in my life, I find that, you know, working in performance sport when you’ve treated and got through their careers, the guys that are now the coaches.
And the high-performance coaches have worked for you are now young. Lot’s pretty easy. You can go about your work with confidence, knowing that the club knows what you’re doing. So I know that we talk about on social media, they go just be careful you know, because you don’t want to step on the club’s toes.
Certainly for anyone that comes into our clinic to see me from international soccer or A League soccer or the AFL guys coming through, because I’ve got such a good working relationship over, you know, nearly three decades with doctors, with surgeons and so forth that if anything, I’ll get a call from the doctor going, Hey, the young lad’s broken down again could you just check on his mental state?
And I’m not even in the system I mean, you know, I mean for the boy, the lad. I don’t think Mike put that, so well-received look, Hey, look, you can put your phone on airplane mode, but the one lesson I say to each person in this industry, and even though, you know, we’ve watched, you know, our good friends Cam Faloon and Richie Burnett do well.
And, and with a BFT sale, the reality is the bulk of people that will enter these industry, by the time you’ve got your private business going, you’re working really hard. You’re getting a lot of efficacy out of what you do. And that’s a really great outcome. If you want it to make a whole heap of money, you could work half as hard, the mind numb, working investment banking and wait, make way more money, but that’s not why each of you are sitting here and passionate about the industry.
So I think, just remember that, that over time, your passion, that drives it. You know, what he talked about, you know, being who he was, the authenticity building the relationships don’t be cagey. They’re the critical moments. If there are any S&C coaches sitting out there, don’t sit there, don’t sit there and feed of that sports doctor or that surgeon or that you know or the physio that’s perhaps maybe got a bit of a complex or your perception of that information.
And I think it’s really important that you break down those barriers so that you can improve your relationships because once your relationships are improved, then a way you go. And I was, thinking to not, you know, what’s your definition of delegation. So if I’m Chris and I’m saying, right. Okay. I want this glute program.
You know, and there’s an S&C coach, that’s just started at West Coast Health. And we’ve certainly go through that and, you know, seeking first to understand what that guy knows. So I can sit there cause we’re all time poor on the hop and doing what we do. But then to say to Chris and say you know, Chris, Christopher, okay, well, here’s your program and we need a lot of hip hinge stuff we’re going to do a lot of anterior, oblique chain posterior longitudinal stuff. We’re going to do all that. We’ve got the measures we’re going to do. Now that language is, is something that, you know, it might be clear to us and that person may be somewhat different in terms of what their perception of, even though in our minds, it’s perfectly clear.
So, you know someone like boxes or repaired all this sort of stuff, where he talks about how he breaks down the language. And so they understand not only do we need to understand the scientific jargon and be able to share that together in that middle of that Venn diagram, but also what we need to be able to do is ensure that the language we’re using actually means the same thing.
And so what’s your definition of honesty. What’s your definition of if we can find that correct language, then your delegation process he’s well, I need that program and in my head, that’s what I thought I was getting and is your S&C understanding it? So you can see also we’ve got the issue of learning about the issue of a master’s in S&C.
We’ve got the issue of a sports masters, physio, and not only are they trying differently, but we want to make sure that the language they’re using actually means the same. And that actually you’ve got to spend a bit of time with people. And that’s why you’ll often see in, in the, sports sector that each of you all know that, you know, is it that, you know, by the time I’ve got I’ve been through four different roles at a footy club, but I know that S&C understands what I’m saying or the AFL coach has already know that that assistant coach understands what I’m saying.
So. I just can’t, you know, enforce enough to those S&Cs to be if you’re really passionate and you really want to go to that next level, make contact with these people stalk them, to a point I’m not saying getting that, you know, a police order out on you or anything like that, but certainly make those connections with people.
And so all of a sudden your understanding, I mean, for anyone in rehab, as Chris will say, like your perception of how you rehabilitate a hip scope becomes very different after you’ve watched one. And so the more tangible information you guys can get, the more common language you can get. The more of that Venn diagram becomes not a small little space, but a very large one. I tell you what, that’s the sort of stuff that’s going to build a lot of success in what you do.
Jack: That’s great mate and you mentioned the importance of building that relationship. In a leadership position for a facility like you have the ability where your physios and S&C are actually in the same building, so that must help opposed to obviously working via email and those sort of communication platforms where other clinics might have to do if they’re not working together.
But when, and I imagine it happens at time at your facility where they are butting heads and they’re not seeing eye to eye, but they’re managing the same athlete as it from a leader’s perspective, how do you?
Tim: Are we saying in the facility or are we saying at a footy club?
Jack: Now within your facility.
Tim: Would never happen. Like in terms of there could be a butting head around some comfortable dialogue because I would get my experienced S&Cs to be wanting to challenge the physio. But the other thing we, we do to break down those barriers. If we had a Mike cried and working, I’d have him present a lot of information to the physios because the physios have received their training and that’s what they do.
And I would have the physios doing a lot of presenting to Mike. And so Mike already understands that, you know what, he’s actually not that strong in that area. Or we always know that Dave is coming from that space or Ryan’s coming from that space. So you understand as assignment orthopedic surgeons, you know, I’ve got, I’ve got orthopods and I’m sure Chris does this all the time, where you go, you know, he’s 65 and he plays golf.
You know, Royal Melbourne, and there’s a surgeon that’s just perfect for that kind of bloke, because you’ll want to get back to Ida and holes. And then there’s, you know, someone who wants a surgeon that’s prepared to push the boundaries a bit. Cause this bloke goes, I can’t just get back to that level of KPI.
I want to get back to that in my life. And then of course you’ve got athletes again that have that level of, you know, you couldn’t have a conservative orthopedic surgeon working in alignment with a footy club. It just wouldn’t happen. You’ve got to have someone at time who’s prepared to take a risk to go. We’ve got to get this player back for the finals.
So I think healthy dialogues are good. And I think always the S&C should be pushing the high-performance that obviously you have to understand all the different dynamics of what’s going on amongst medical docs, but I’ve also seen some really funny stuff was you’ve also got to stay within your lanes.
And so, you know, there was a AFL club last year, for instance, where let’s call it a high performance coach who has an area that is you know it is his area of high performance at the football club, but now he’s not a surgeon, but yet at that football club, that particular high performance coach was not able or sorry the surgeon was not able to guarantee a surgery had gone through, unless it was ticked off, not by a panel, including the medical department, but just the high-performance coach. Now for mine, you gotta stay within your lane.
You seek the advice from an expert in another area. You’re not by the time you’re a high performance coach, you’re not an orthopod, a sports doc. You’ve got to surround yourself with good people, good relationships, and create that Venn diagram.
So the same model we’ve used in, you know, in high performance environments and, and people who’ve got your back and you, you using similar language is the same thing you can create in your private sector and the theme when your people come in and even if it’s for a hip replacement, or as Chris was saying, you bring in the force plates and most sort of things.
The technology use with athletes, all of a sudden gives the opportunity for, you know, for them to our battles next to, you know a certain play yesterday. I was next to Jody or whatever else, and that was great.
You know what I’m doing similar sort of stuff that he’s doing and that just helps drag up the quality of the whole environment. It can create an environment also that is not always, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to include everyone, but that’s okay too. As Mike was saying, are you going to, you’re going to attract actually certain sorts of patients into your place that that are motivated and I want to get better and they want to get the best outcome.
And that works perfectly because that’s what you want a high-performance center, not just for your athletes, but also for your general population.
Jack: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing thoughts. We could go on all night mate.
Tim: I was going to say, I get short. I feel sorry for sure. I’m sure it looks he’s had four pec stretches, seven yawns and rubbed his eyes nine times. So get the poll.
Jack: I reckon he’s ready to roll but finishing with energy. That’s where I thought we needed it.
It could get late tonight. So I thought we’ll have Sean at the end and he’s just going to pick us up now. Thanks Schleigs, for the athletes as well as coaches, practitioners, parents that want to send their kids to your clinic, what’s the best place to get in contact?
Tim: That’s just I’m more aligned with the old blokes in the groups. So anyone with a bald head and my gray beard, just remember it’s the Sports Clinic of Melbourne. That’s where I work. Vic Active is still going to be doing a little bit of work this year, just to put a bit of political pressure on the landscape. We’ve got some stuff coming out in the next couple of weeks in Victoria, just to make sure that we get an essential service type scenario going.
So there’s a couple of things they’re coming out in the next month that I’ve of just humming along in the background. And then I’ve got the Instagram Tim Schleiger Coach page, but you know, any of that sort of stuff, people can find me if they want. And if they don’t, that’s fine too. It’s all good.
Jack: Director of West Coast Health and High Performance located in Perth, Chris Perkin. His topic is going to be how to best combine technology to assist with injury prevention and ultimately high performance. Welcome, Chris.
Chris: Yes. Thanks Jack and thanks crew. Second time, lucky here. Appreciate being on. It’s good to hear everyone with the passion that got for what they do. Really enjoying it.
Jack: A 100% mate. Well, let’s dive right in. What technology do you find most effective for assessing symmetry?
Chris: Yeah, I guess coming from the background, we’re all comes from sports teams backgrounds, and taking that into the private world. I guess we’re lucky where we go with the teams that they’ve got the affordability of everything.
And we’re using the technology that can afford our high performance ended lucky to have ACA Uni link with it and actually at the Eagle center, so available to the public. So we’ve got things like DEXA scan, VO2max machine for running, Biodex machine and you know, probably, but our force plates.
So there’s a whole bunch of things I think we can use. And it just depends on what you have access to. And what I love is trying to figure out. You know how accessible this is, we can help other clinics get these information, take it back to their own sort of workouts and then use it and then followed lighter. See how much improvement there is.
But look, I guess force platforms are probably more accessible for the high performing centers and I reckon the force platforms are a great wide measuring a number of things, a whole bunch of things, and whether which type you have, doesn’t really matter, but giving you dynamic stuff with, you know, jumping, hopping, counter jump movement, drop jumps, those type of things.
Looking at the pay power you can get out of that, but also the rider falls development. No hearing the big, important part of speed being a big injury prevention and performance. How can we improve on speed of some of the athletes that have might coming back from injuries that are almost there, but their rate of force development, isn’t quite there on one leg or their push off, not their own leg.
You pick that up very nicely on some of the force platform stuff. And then it makes a rehab process. Just a little bit more structured and achievable. And then like, I will remeasure this rate of force development after these hop drills, all these spring drills, all these fly drills, and then whack two weeks later, you’ve got this 30% improvement that they see on the screen.
And that gives everyone a bit of energy, or if you haven’t changed, then we need a thought out shit. And actually you get a bit of program together. So that’s, a suppose putting us all the accountability so, force plates is certainly one of those things. You know, the DEXA scan we use, there’s a bit of research in AFL that if you’ve got a percentage body fat of less than 12% and this is just coming out through one of the PhD guys at the clinic. You lessen 12%, actually, you’re probably three times more likely. The study gave me, to miss two or more games of injury compared to if you’re less than 12%. So more than 12%, you’re more likely to get injured and missed two or more games.
There you go. That’s the standard to remember. So there’s not, but that’s a high level performance. I mean, everyone’s going to come outside of those that bell curve, but that’s the number that Callum who’s doing his criteria at the moment. Have a chapter about sports science fell off.
Jack: Would athletes was part of the study.
Chris: Well, this is the West Coast Eagles squads. He’s sort of doing it, using that and bone density measures to look at performance over the last couple of years or injury over the last couple of year’s performance. But it wouldn’t be a good one at the moment.
So, you know, you’ve got, your measurement tools out on the force plates. You’ve got the DEXA scan dynamometers which obviously we all use in the clinic and in the physio clinics. Great measures to look at anything you want to look at. So, hamstrings, a big number one AFL injury. So from an injury prevention point of view, hammy is of course, you know, we’ve got the NordBord.
If you’re lucky enough to have one of those, you know, a lot of clubs have them, but otherwise we’ve got your isometric hammy. You can do any range using a dynamometer, and they’re really accessible. Some of them pretty cheap now. Yeah, it’s three or $400 for some of the cheaper ones where you use the yaxit system, which is great.
The Eagles use the develop system. You know, you boys are familiar with all that stuff, but you know, it’s a great way of accountability and measuring, you know, when you think something’s weakened, you’re assessing it, but then all of a sudden you’ve got a 40% deficit on a number. It makes a big difference on their measure, on putting a program together and measuring that and re measuring. And that’s always important in the concept of, you know, getting the performance side of things, going linked with injury.
But even not with injury, you know, as injury prevention, if you’ve got a 40% difference, then on a dynamometer then on hammy or a quarter and have doctor, then we know that can link with injury. Certainly are prevented, but can’t link with it.
So on top of that, Jack, I guess the Biodex is something that, again, we’ll use for some research in, you know, we picked up a 40% deficit and a hamstring the other day who, a guy at, join, aspire to be an AFL player. You know, you out of your 12 trying to get into a pick next year. So you did a full screen on him with things and the Biodex picked up a 40% difference.
It’s not going to prevent injury, but it’s going to reduce his risk for injury. We know that prevention of things a little bit difficult, but we try and reduce as much risk as we can. And I guess that’s why everyone hear about strength conditioning performance. That’s what we’re doing. We’re reducing injury risk every time.
And we’re getting the people to the max strength or max speed and sprint work. We were trying to prevent injury, but it’s more reducing risk, I guess. And preparing like a prize that we are doing that will reduce the risk.
Jack: Yeah. You mentioned like a non-professional athlete that you’re working with from, a buying perspective, when you do have the luxury of tech. I can imagine that young athlete, when I saw that gap, or however you explained to the athlete, there’s a bit of a deficit here would be pretty motivated to make a change when they’re seeing that objective measure. How important do you think that is? If you do have the ability to use tech, but also how important is it your communication with the athlete when there is a fair gap?
Chris: Yeah, a 100%. I guess the communication is a key and the reassurance that wake him up to change. I mean, that’s why we’re all in the business we’re in, because we know that we can have an impact. And if you had the energy that you’ve got from what are you there. As shine, very clearly you’re going to inspire people to actually work.
So you have to actually put them in that environment where it’s a bit more, you know, not just coming into the normal gym, you’re here to work your ass off, to get a result. Otherwise, why are you here? You know, so if there’s a deficit, they’re driven enough to do a screen or is he going to work at it.
But at the same time, the other funny thing is in the sport we play, you’ve got to be out of a good 40 plow. Goodbye can be applied I tell you so we can get them all up to these levels and give them their best opportunity. But then that’s where the performance side of things we need to get, you know, the skill set and linking coaches and mentors in that aspect that can help them become better.
Yeah, skills in an athlete of the sport they’re doing, particular AFL because, you know, I’m in love that. Well, the recruiters will look like I have, as opposed to looking at their time trial and their strength to a squat, I’d be looking at how I have apply.
But the performance level, give yourself your best opportunity to go to that next level. This is why you’re doing what we’re doing. And I work hard on it and yeah, producing some KPIs for them to work on. You know, the other one was speed sort of things. I’m interested to see how the guys get the speed or that the running speed into these athletes in the clinic, because you know, we’ve got a Woodway treadmill we’re going and lucky enough to have this which gives us force plate or has a force plate built.
It’s got a horizontal and vertical forces, stride length, you’re getting stride right. And these aspects are, give a great number, total isometry number on like, what’s the difference there. And the big picture is the problem-solving from my point of view is niggles or performances. How does it relate and mixed together.
Because you can get all the different technologies you like, but as I’m putting it together, and probably like one of the lads said before sitting down at with the athlete, how are you going to actually put that together? Now we found that with your school program or your uni program, or your club sport, where can we diarize this into your program. And they might have cut something out, but you know, we need to put X, Y, Z in your program. And this is where this is a challenge I think that’s one of the big challenges on that.
Jack: And for the athletes that you’re working, the non-professional athletes, how does that look? Is that a weekly membership? Do they pay for a consultation with yourself to get this screening talk us through?
Chris: Yeah. Well, we’ve looked at a lot of the websites you guys run, and we haven’t got as many coaches, but it’s more of a physio based clinic turning into the performance aspects. That’s where we’re going now. We’ve got a sports science, give us sports science guys working hard.
And yeah, developing that energy and the coaches, I think energy is early and care that you want to actually do the right thing. So we’re at that stage now, no membership is just, we’re doing a lot of performance assessments for other groups. So, whether it be Western Force and other club, ultimately sillies after the Eagles to do for that to travel too far, to have all their testing done, but it’s for the public.
So, you know, the other sporting teams in Perth will come along and test an ICO client 12 months down the track, you know, from the Western Force, whose coming back ticking a box on Biodex, sticking a box on your muscle size. You can see on a DEXA, if there’s a deficiency still, most of the groups got force plates to chip.
But I guess that’s, that’s what we’re trying to use as much of the technology that exists to compliment all those other aspects of training and plyometrics and return to speed and volume, and then not running that done. So getting as ticking, all the boxes on this return to play sort of aspect when they are injured or just if it’s performance point of view.
If you want to reduce the, the interviews cause much of Baltimore and get that top level. So you ask sprinting and you are working at your max, whether you’d be doing the running the gym, whatever it might be there. And if you’ve got your elite strength that matches that. So getting kids and people that something goes spider, I think makes them work harder. Yeah.
Jack: Oh, a hundred percent. And you might be at when the time’s right. You won’t be hard to find our strength and conditioning coaches that want to work in your facility. I’m sure with the ACL athletes there, how often would you see him how often would he come in for assessment?
Chris: Yeah. Well, a lot of surgeons probably like to do a we have a couple of surgeons working with us.
They like to do a three, six and nine months. And obviously you’re not doing too much max stuff in three, three months. I actually like to use the force plates really early in the stages when they actually started the weight big properly. So they’re normalizing their gait, normalizing their feeling of squat and weightbearing and, you know, using the floss bands or the actual you know, air bands with the blood flow restriction stuff early.
And again, you know, the strength and conditioning world have been using that for quite a while, and we’re just getting more and more evidence to support it. Yeah. Yeah, forced plates early in the piece or reckon to get activation with our ACL patients, the highest risk is not bothering the ACL, it it’s popping their hammy when you’re doing it, strength testing, which or had a younger physio in the other day, who we did a lot of dynamometry test on is hammy it 45 degrees, knee flection, and we fell a little pop.
So, you know, we both worked together and said, well, there it goes. There’s your little bit of restraint or the graph that hamstring. ACL is good but you know, so you’ve got to be careful where you put the strength measures in. So and that’s why it’s a graduated process or measuring that over time. But you know, three, six and eight, 12 months, 12 months, the big one where they the clubs and the surgeons athletes, if not six months, because some of our athletes, we want to push back earlier.
You know, the evidence is mixed where you, you bring them back. But if we can tick as many boxes as we can at 8, 9, 10, months, show the athlete as much information as most of the candidate that tick the box within 10% or the other side, or they’re better than the other side. It gives them confidence and confidence and reassurance in an athlete is probably more, is probably worth more than some of the other matter of fact, as we say, they have to be confident, go into training comps and push himself with speed.
And, you know, we’ve got technology to measure GPS. We’ve got all those factors and by the confidence is really important, I guess technology ticks those boxes for them as well. I’m hoping that makes sense.
Jack: Yeah. A hundred percent. I mean, yeah, like you said, if you’re, if you’ve got all these objective measures no doubt. If they’re in favor of the athlete coming from a long-term injury, it’s only going to boost your confidence, isn’t it?
Chris: Yeah. And I guess, you know, there are tax way clinical side of things for masters physios. That you’ve got a good musculoskeletal screen. You’re looking at where the imbalances are.
You might be able to leg press 200, but you can’t do a site clam or work, you keep external rotators. And sometimes when you say that as you know, not a massive factor, but combined with good strength, you do need those sort of details of you know, keep rotator weakness that we can measure on dynamometers as well.
So I reckon all those little things add up to be a pro, I guess you’re trying to tick all those boxes. And have those seems to go. So hopefully that makes sense.
Jack: Thank you for jumping on Chris. And for those that are listening in practitioners, physios, sports scientists, like you mentioned, and certainly addition coaches in the future, as well as of course, athletes that want to be assessed in your facility and trade about yourself, where’s the best place to get in contact?
Chris: Yeah. Well, clearly not as good on socials or on the technology on the computer, but yeah, West Coast website, West Coast Health and High Performance, and Instagram’s pretty good on @westcoasthealth_hp.
But you know, you look up names anywhere in your foreign people. So yeah. Love to love to get anyone in there and, and help them you know, get to the point I want to get to them. And love the passionate ones showing what they’re doing. So thanks for having us on mate.
Jack: Awesome. Thanks for coming on the Chris. Absolute pleasure, mate.
Chris: Yeah, it’s been great. I will listen to the chat soon.
Mat recently just finished up as Rehabilitation Coordinator for the North Melbourne FC. Before working in rehab, Matthew was the strength & conditioning coach & High-performance manager of the VFL program and worked at Collingwood as an S&C in the VFL & AFL program.
Topics we discussed:
His shift from going to be a physio to physical preparation
How he started at Collingwood FC while having his degree
Mentors and people who helped him in his career
Key relationships within the program for a rehab coordinator role
Methods to build resilience for developing footballers
Steve has recently finished working with Hockey Australia womens team during a Olympic campaign. He has also worked at Melbourne FC for 5 seasons and currently runs workshops at the West Coast Health & Performance Clinic.
What a physio’s schedule look like in his time in West Coast
How often an athlete should try something new before deciding to include it in the training
Strategies when working with an athlete for the first time
How often he works out with the athlete when he does rehab work
His favorite tv series/movie as a physio
Upcoming Athletic Hip and Groin Workshop this December 4 – 5, 2021