A Season of Two Stories with the Men’s University of Exeter Hockey Team: the highs and lows of being a Sports Physiotherapist
After three seasons, this potentially has been the most nerve racking finish to date with the University of Exeter Men’s Hockey club. The first half of the season we were rooted to the bottom of the National Premier League with only seven points. In stark contrast the second half of the season saw the team pick up ten points out of a possible twelve. At the end of the season finishing second from bottom, has led to this weekend in Cannock, competing in the National league play offs to attempt to retain our National League status. A great high on Saturday beating local rivals Bath Buccaneers 6-0, followed by the low of today losing against Canterbury to see us relegated to the South West Premier League.
Nevertheless, this is only half the story. The number one University Men’s Hockey Club in England, is equally as hardly fought each year. The University of Exeter competing in BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) pitching themselves against other Universities. Throughout the season six University teams compete each Wednesday within leagues and then enter the Cup knock out competition. Travelling to Sheffield in March for the BUCs finals with both the 1st and 2nd team illustrates the depth of talent at the University. I left that day on the team bus wearing a gold and silver medal. The 2nd team losing to Manchester University and the 1st beating Loughborough to claim gold, reclaiming the title as the number one men’s University side in the country! It was a busy day for me covering both games and having 36 players to work with, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else that day!
It’s easy to see why any physio would enjoy days like yesterday beating Bath and the couple days in Sheffield at the BUCs finals in March. Watching the best hockey teams in England play hockey at the weekend is quite frankly a privilege, having previously played myself (at a much lower level I must add) it taps well into my competitive genes. Games versus East Grinstead for example with numerous GB players who will in just a couple months be in the Olympics, watching our own South African international wheeling his magic and the fresher’s new to Exeter develop and evolve both on and off the hockey pitch makes every game exciting. This weekend was no different to any other regards my role: team pre-stretch, treatment and strapping of individual players, management of injuries during the game, followed by the team warm down. Having a night away either prior to playing or between games like this weekend adds a further workload of treating in the evening and leading a pool recovery sessions pre or post game.
The glaring difference for me personally comparing my previous experience with Exeter Chiefs Rugby Club than working now with a National League Hockey Team is the game day and responsibilities within the week. Clearly, within rugby the game day was high tempo with the volume of pre-game treatment and strapping and active trauma management during and following the game. However, having a team of other physiotherapists and medics spread the work, organisation and planning in the week. Hockey is different, when the game starts I can certainly relax more and I can watch and enjoy the game generally. The work with hockey starts as the game has finished, with planning for the week, treatment and regular communication with the players prior to the next game. Communicating late in the evening with players with injury worries, coming in to treat and assess players on my day off lands with me as there is no one else! Trauma does happen in hockey (the ball moves very fast and is very hard!) this season has seen a hand fracture and nasty thumb fracture requiring surgery and knee surgery in just the first team. There are the standard soft tissue muscle strains and injuries that occur in any running sport and especially with two competitive games in a week period during the season. Nevertheless, testament to the conditioning and strength input from Andy and Beef at the University, consideration of training volume and playing minutes from the coaches and the Sports Specific Screening that I complete on each player within the first squad at the start to the season highlighting any potential issues has led to a dramatic reduction in the soft tissue loading related issues over the last three years. I may be the only physiotherapist and the support team I work with is small compared to more full time professional sport I have previously encountered and it’s still a supportive and effective and most importantly enjoyable team to be part of.
University sport creates a fantastically vibrant, youthful and exciting environment to work in as a sports physiotherapist. It still has the same long journeys, small smelly changing rooms, cold sidelines and long days at the weekend working as any other team sport. Conversely, I get to work with talented sports man, be a small part of their highs and lows and make some great friends along the way. Today, wasn’t the greatest day for the University of Exeter Hockey Club, and I will never enjoy the silent and thoughtful cool down after losing a big game but it has been a great season. Some special players will be leaving this season, one of which I have worked with since he was fifteen years old on my first sports physiotherapy role with the West Boys U15’s! However, we will all have our Gold medals to take from this season and I look forward to adding to the collection next year.
Jo Avery MSc BSc (Hons) MCSP MHPC
Senior Specialist Sports Physiotherapist, Ocean Physio & Rehab