Meg Lanning’s shoulder is making as much news as Meg Lanning’s bat this ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. The Australian team’s handling of their captain’s chronic shoulder injury has been a marker for the increasing role of sports science and professionalism in the women’s game.
Australia are one of the fittest sides this tournament, and one of the reasons for that is Kate Mahony, the physio travelling with the team. Mahony explained to Wisden India how they deal with the challenges of a changing women’s game, the greater emphasis on power, an increasingly busy calendar and how she deals with all those hours travelling on buses and flights. Excerpts:
As women’s cricket gets more professional, what is the role of a physio?
It’s the same as in men’s cricket. The main goal is that I keep all the players available for selection so the coach has anyone in the squad to choose from in each match.
Secondary to that is all the good things we do to make that happen, which is things like injury prevention, making sure we identify areas where players are more likely to get injured, making sure we work on those before the injury occurs, and working with the strength and conditioning coach to make sure they’ve got optimal physical preparation so they don’t get injured.
I also have a role monitoring the workloads and liaise with the coaches regarding the workload, to make sure athletes go into tournaments with enough training but also enough rest.
The main area of focus is keeping injury free. That’s a tough one because you have to balance their skill work (i.e. fine-tuning specific cricket skills) with their strength and conditioning (the use of exercise prescription i.e. a specifically developed fitness plan to improve performance of athletes) and their fitness component.
The other area that is becoming more prevalent is keeping mentally fresh – making sure they do what they need to do, but also keep away from the game.
What is the importance of the strength and conditioning component?
It’s very important. With the direction the women’s game is going and with a bit more T20 cricket, the players have to be stronger and fitter to be powerful athletes. And also with more cricket being played, they need to be fit to keep up and not get injured and end up unavailable for selection.
Given the emphasis on power now, how do the more petite players keep up?
You’ve always got to take an individual approach to each athlete. Those who are naturally more petite and find it hard to put on muscle bulk, it doesn’t mean they can’t get stronger. So it’s making sure their strength and conditioning programme is consistent and they’re getting consistent increases in their strength in the gym. And making sure they’re doing skill work so it transfers out in form on the day.
You mentioned workload monitoring. What does that entail for fast bowlers?
We know from research that if you have large spikes in workload or long periods of chronically high workloads, (the pacers) are more susceptible to getting one of the stress fractures, which will take them away from the game for a long time, which is what we’re trying to prevent. So we see the workload not as a restriction, but just as planning – planning how we can slowly increase their bowling load so they can maintain a chronic load that’s at a level that we know they won’t get injured.
We do that electronically. We have a system where we can enter in the number of balls in nets training and predict the number of balls they’ll bowl in a match. From that, we can see where their workloads are likely to spike and we also use that system to plan their rest.
We know they need a couple of two-week breaks throughout the year to make sure they do have time to heal and they don’t develop any stress reactions.
And what about for spinners and the batters?
It’s different for spinners, we don’t monitor their loads as much. However in saying that, we have had domestically a couple of players who have had stress fractures recently so it’s something we’re looking into.
With the batters, they don’t get the same injury patterns as the bowlers, so we don’t have to monitor it as closely. What we look at more is an overall load. We have GPS (tracking) in their matches, and we’ll look at how many kilometres they’ve covered and at what intensity and base our training sessions and extra running off that.
They do a combination of high speed running and MAS (maximal aerobic speed – the lowest running speed at which maximum oxygen uptake occurs) running. Our strength and conditioning coach looks at all the data from a session and from a match, and if the girls need top-up running. They may do some high speed running if they haven’t hit their max speed or they may do a MAS set.
What specific challenges does a month-long tournament like this World Cup present?
In terms of my role, the biggest challenge is keeping all our squad injury-free and to stay on top of all our small niggles so we don’t end up with bigger problems. So after every match we do a physio screening, where I check in with each of the girls, take some key measures to identify any areas that we might work on before the next match.
(For the players) the big challenge is for everyone to physically keep their strength up. So making sure we do fit in gym sessions in between match play so they don’t lose strength during the tournament. The other challenge is keeping them mentally fresh.
Travelling definitely takes a toll. In terms of recovery, being cooped up on a bus is never nice the day after a match. After every match, athletes have an ice bath or a stretch. On the day after a match, we’ll also encourage them to get in the pool or do some of their rehab to prevent injury and do a screening.
How do you deal with an increasingly packed women’s calendar? After the World Cup, for instance, several players will be involved in the Super League in England.
It’s going to become more and more important to plan breaks as well as the cricket side of things. Girls going into the KSL have a week off. We have monitoring systems that are on their phone. They rate their soreness and their wellness every day. We keep an eye on that. They have an app on their phone, we put all their strength and conditioning programmes in there and we keep an eye on their workloads that way. So we always know they’re not spiking their workloads, because we can plan it. It can be done remotely, but we also catch up with them by email and give them a call if we feel they’re not progressing like we’d like them to.
Are there differences of opinion with the local physios and clubs?
We’ve got a very integrated system at Cricket Australia, so we all liaise regularly (with the WBBL and domestic clubs). I speak to the physios in the states on a weekly basis. We’re all working towards the same goal, which is keeping our players available for both domestic and national duties.