International cricket is for the young and single

Want a career in physiotherapy? Or are you a parent of a young cricketer? Your fitness queries answered here

Matt Prior gives a thumbs up as he heads through the airport, Heathrow, January 2, 2012
Cricketers travel more than most other sportspeople, and that brings its own pressures and challenges © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Rahul Dravid | Andrew Leipus
Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League

How did you become a physio? Are there any particular tips for someone who is contemplating it as a career? Deena G, Sydney
There are many websites that describe the physiotherapy profession more comprehensively than I can, such as the Australian Physiotherapy Association website. But any decision to pursue a career as a physiotherapist should be based on a genuine desire or passion to help others. It is a contemporary allied medical field, and interpersonal skills, compassion and empathy are the underlying qualities of the profession. As a primary healthcare practitioner, the physio is often the first medical contact person, so he shoulders significant medico-legal accountability.

Sports physiotherapists undergo further extensive post-grad studies and have experience working over a broad range of physical activities and sporting disciplines. These prepare you to manage just about any situation, both on and off the field. As a career choice, job satisfaction comes from working with all levels of sports, not just the elite. Knowing that, in some intangible way, you had a part to play in preparing a sportsperson to achieve his or her best performance provides incredible satisfaction. And if you are prepared to travel, employment opportunities exist all over the world.

What has been your experience as a physio for other sports, and which sport has been the most challenging? Casey Scott, Canada
Life experience is not easy to summarise in a paragraph! Sports physios get to work in a variety of sports, in both clinical and sporting environments. And every injury exposes a new learning experience. So no matter which sport or how an injury occurred, each athlete has a unique personal context and needs to be managed accordingly.

Management techniques often overlap from one sport to another, which is why it is important to experience working in as many different sporting environments as possible early in your career. Small things forced me to completely change my management approach: like finding out that soccer players with knee injuries don't like having their knees strapped; how to prevent sand getting into a beach volleyballer's ankle-taping; how to strap a fractured jaw in order to allow a cricketer to bowl; on-field treatment of a head injury to a South African rugby player - speaking English to him and getting Afrikaans in reply; negotiating with a junior elite swimming coach about reducing training loads to protect a patient's shoulder. As you can see, you never know when a unique situation is going to present itself.

The most challenging aspect across all sports is trying to answer the common question of "When can I play again?" Motivated athletes are all the same when it comes to their preparation to return to fitness as soon as possible. But it is also interesting to think about the less obvious challenges each sport presents.

International cricket is quite tough, considering the periods away from home. Let me just say that it is a young, single person's job, because the fun wears off if you don't see your family for six months. I regularly chat with my sports physio mates about this issue. International rugby tours are generally only a few weeks away from home and Aussie Rules footballers only travel one night each week. Even the Olympics is only for a couple of weeks. Much easier than international cricket, where a Test match lasts for five days and there can be up to five of these plus ODIs on a single tour.

How different is it being the physio of an IPL team compared to being the physio of a national team? Rohan, Colombo
I don't think there is too much difference, since we still have to deal with the usual cricketing injuries and the short time frame in which to turn them around. Perhaps one area of difference is the maintenance of bowling loads in our fast bowlers. In the IPL we tend to see bowlers not actually bowling enough over a weekly period due to the travel and the limit of four overs per match. And injuries can certainly occur if this specific conditioning is on the low side.

Having non-cricketing owners also reportedly added external pressure for some of my IPL colleagues in the earlier seasons. Running a winning IPL team is not necessarily the same as running a successful business, and often there were reports of unrealistic expectations from management on the performance of coaches, physios and trainers. But we are all going into the fifth IPL season now, and I think everyone's learning curve has settled. In this regard, there is an emphasis on making sure players arrive in good health, for this is important from a medico-legal perspective - it is a corporate that employs us and not a national body.

Efforts are also made to keep the respective national team medicos in the loop if any of their players are injured. In a sense we are "borrowing" these guys for eight weeks, so collaboration over medical management is in everyone's best interests. I could potentially be chatting with the England, Australian, Bangladesh, South African, New Zealand, West Indian and Indian medical panels at some stage during the tournament. It is a great privilege to be responsible for all of these players. It's also a great way for the physios to learn new treatment methods - players often arrive with an existing rehab/fitness programme - and to see how other people work.

Rahul Dravid retired from cricket recently. What are your memories of him? Any anecdote you remember from those days when you were with the Indian team? KD Raghav, Hyderabad
I will always remember Rahul as one of the most professional yet humble and private guys in world cricket. One of my fondest memories of Rahul, the person, was being invited to dinner at his parents' home in Bangalore soon after I joined the Indian team. That's the type of person he is - a solid family man.

He was constantly on a mission to improve in any way possible, and having chatted to him last year, I don't think he has slowed down at all in the past ten or so years. He was always very competitive on the field and in training, but probably more so with himself. I think he really found some of his best form when he discovered all the effort he put into his fitness paid off in terms of performance on the field. To maintain his skinfolds he would be in the gym each morning on tour, doing some form of metabolism/aerobic session. He was also one of the first players to supplement his nutrition with a variety of shakes, depending on the nutritional need at the time. I know that John Wright credits his form to his fitness.

Rahul was, and is, prone to dehydration, and by taking the effort to address the issue, becoming lighter and physically fitter, he was able to remain at the crease for a lot longer. How many other cricketers would undergo strict lab-testing to determine the optimal sport-drink formula for themselves? I hope the younger players who first entered the Indian dressing room when Rahul was playing have learned from his professionalism on and off the field.

Rahul Dravid stretches during practice, Centurion, December 13, 2010
The hard work Rahul Dravid put into maintaining a fit body showed greatly in his performance on the field © Associated Press

I have a ten-year-old son, and he loves playing cricket. I want to know what is the best age for youngsters to start thinking about fitness seriously. Hardik Kumar, New Delhi
I think it's great that you are encouraging your son to pursue his love of cricket. But at ten he should probably just be out there playing and having fun. He still has a lot of years to develop and mature physically, so I wouldn't really have any structured "training" session per se. Children are naturally fit and they have to naturally overcome challenges such as growth spurts, postural changes, hormonal fluctuations, etc.

It might be more beneficial to provide him opportunities to broaden his pool of motor skills by having him play a range of other sports. Cricket has very repetitive movement patterns, and long hours of playing can be a factor in injury development in an immature skeleton. Kids who are exposed to a variety of other sports seem to utilise or transfer those learned motor skills to the sport they eventually choose. The end result is a more "athletic" cricketer, which, in this new era of Twenty20 cricket, is a desirable quality.

If you really want him to begin "fitness" training then I would consult a professional coach. There is a natural progression to any training programme and it is critical to teach certain fundamental basic movements before loading the body. As a foundation, however, if he is keen to add additional exercise, then using bodyweight functional-type exercises is generally considered safe. Mid-teens are when I would look to being to apply loads to a strength programme.

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Gillette Fitness Zone video series presented by Adrian Le Roux will explore fitness exercises to enhance the performance of the modern day cricket player. The 25-episode series will focus on the functional exercises that can be done anyplace anywhere; and then move on to functional and core stability exercises that involve lot of movement and power.

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