Reflections on The Arnold Sports Festival
Any one who knows me will know that my natural habitat is amongst endurance athletes (generally of the running, cycling and/or swimming variety) or on the side of a cricket or rugby pitch. So when my The School and Massage Collective colleagues told me we had the opportunity to be the lead sports massage & physiotherapy provider at The Arnold Sports Festival UK along with our good friends and partners Physio Matters, my first question was "What on Earth is an Arnold Sports Festival?"!
Well I very quickly discovered the answer; it was three days of some of the leading athletes in Classic Strongman, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Mixed Martial Arts, Gymnastics, Cheerleading and Dance competing on a massive stage. Originally founded in 1989 by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer, it is touted as the largest multi-sports festival across the world. As well as the competition events, the festival formed an expo for all things gym sports, health and fitness. Our role for the weekend was providing Soft Tissue Therapy to all the competitors in the CrossFit, Mixed Martial Arts and Dance competitions, as well as sports massage and advice to the attending members of the public on our main stand in the exhibition hall.
Firstly, it was incredible to see an event of this magnitude come together. When we arrived, massage couches in hand, to set up on the Thursday the NEC looked little more than a large, empty cattle shed, by Friday morning it was quite literally an all singing, all dancing, festival of sport. And then there were the athletes, whether there to compete or watch and enjoy the expo, they were immensely impressive. As with all athletes and sportspeople I have had the pleasure of working with, they showed an awe-inspiring level of commitment to the amount of work and sacrifice that was required to achieving their goals.
And I guess this is where I started to feel very much at home! From being a little apprehensive that the extend of my knowledge of this genre of sport was gleaned from slightly hazy memories of TransWorld Sport (a reference for any 80s babies out there!) I quickly realised that there were more similarities than difference to the athletes I more commonly work with. I heard countless stories of how much people’s sport meant to them, moving stories of how their sport had been a solace to them during difficult times, how their sport had been a way of connecting with others, an integral part of their social life and I heard how the people they considered heroes (many of whom they were hoping to catch a glimpse of over the weekend) had inspired them to work harder and dig deeper than they ever imagined they could.
There was also a clear consistency in the fears I heard in those that were experiencing pain or injury. Namely, that they would have to stop training and/or that the injury was their own fault somehow. These are fears I hear daily from clients, and not just those that are involved in sport. To take these two fears in turn –
Firstly, it is well documented amongst therapists that individuals involved in sport delay seeking help for their injuries due to a fear that their therapist may stop them training, This comes with a myriad of concerns for that individual – loosing fitness, putting on weight, loosing gains they have worked so hard for, missing events/games, loss of social life, the list goes on and on. As a therapist, stopping someone from training, competing and taking part in something which matters so much for them will always be my last resort. This is an approach which is well backed up by evidence. Instead, I will work with an individual to find modifications whilst they recover and ways of making their sport a fundamental part of their rehabilitation.
Secondly, the fear that the pain or injury is somehow their fault, something they did wrong, an error in their technique etc… This is something that I hear so often and always upsets me. I have even had the sense that in some people this has delayed them seeking help as they feel embarrassed about getting injured. Undoubtedly, there are times we make mistakes in our training that can result in injury but this happens to even the greatest. More often than not though injury is just one of those things, an unfortunate, frustrating thing, but has probably occurred as a result of multiply factors. Ascribing blame serves no-one, certainly not the individual in pain. What matters is that we learn from any mistakes made and come out the other side stronger and better informed. The important thing is how we move forward.
So having started out not sure what the event was all about, I ended up having an absolute blast treating and chatting to people, hearing their stories, achievements, fears and concerns. Reassuring them, advising them and working out ways they could continue doing what they loved even in the face of pain or injury.
I also had the great privilege to oversee an incredible team of therapists. So often in my job you work in isolation, so it was a joy to work in a team with so much knowledge and commitment to helping others. I think I speak for all of us when I say we left with sore hands but happy hearts!