I was recently asked to talk to a group of students about high performance sport. We discussed all the “usual” topics: talent identification, sports science, elite coach development and sports medicine.
One of the students asked me, “Is there a difference between Medicine (as in general practice medicine) and Sports Medicine as it exists in high performance sport”?
Here’s what I replied:
- Medicine in general practice is conservative in nature. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport needs to be aggressive, goal orientated and time focused, i.e. better results in a shorter time. It is all about performance under pressure.
- Medicine in general society is hierarchical. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport is interdisciplinary and works best when professionals work as equals in problem solving, performance focused teams.
- Medicine in society is in general 9 – 5pm and 5 days a week. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport is 24 / 7, e.g. arranging for an athlete to have an MRI at 2 am Sunday morning so you can start treating them at 2:15 am Sunday morning.
- Medicine in society is evidence based. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport sometimes demands innovation, instinct and intelligent guess work (within ethical conventions).
- Medicine in society generally follows a systematic process from assessment to treatment and recovery. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport often needs to involve short cuts and respond to the needs of the situation, e.g. Grand Final week.
- Medicine in society follows a medical practitioner driven model. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport is a needs based, problem solving approach which may mean other practitioners and professionals may lead the treatment / recovery process at different times, e.g. strength and conditioning coach, sports massage therapist, sports psychologist.
- Medicine in society depends on the patient following the practitioner’s advice. In professional sport, players may be required to follow medical advice including surgery as a contractual commitment.
- Medicine in society usually means practitioners operating in silos as individual practitioners. Sports medicine / physiotherapy in high performance sport requires practitioners to work within a team which may include athletes, coaches, management, other medical practitioners, psychologists, nutritionists and others.
- Medicine in society has to include a lot of public relations, customer relations and be business focused for survival. High performance sport is about performance – not making friends or growing a business.
- Medicine in society is in general a long way behind cutting edge research and the latest thinking in the assessment and treatment of injury and illness owing to the need to be operating with a high level of clinical responsibility. High performance sport means sometimes making it up as you go along, i.e. 0.01 versus 0.50.