Dr. Oz’s blog: What is your achilles heel? Optimising performance

Dr. Oz

GB Women’s middle blocker, Dr. Nicky Osborne has combined undertaking one of the hardest study programmes possible with being a GB Volleyballer! She has written an interesting blog combining her medical knowledge & being an elite athlete…enjoy! 

What is your Achilles heel?  Optimising performance.
As a newly qualified Doc, I hope I know my anatomy.  Perhaps not as well as a surgeon, but I do know the human body & how it works…generally speaking at least!  But how well do I know my body, its strengths, weaknesses & how it functions to optimal performance?

While the knowledge of an athlete need not always be about cells, their insights into their own bodies are usually intricate, detailed and highly expert.  To an athlete, this machine is their tool.  Their job?  To find out exactly how it works, what needs oiling, what needs scraping away, what allows them to produce the best, time after time, and give them the edge.  Often this is automatic but to reach peak performance it needs conscious effort to learn from different professionals to allow the athlete to become their very own specialist.

Enter: The Athlete Support Team…

The Strength and Conditioning coach – the backbone
As a squad we generally knew little in this area on arrival in Sheffield.  We had to quickly develop better techniques and push ourselves harder than before, realising which parts of the season, which technical elements of the game required certain styles of training.  Before players went to different European clubs, we were taught how best to build our own programmes and take control of things that are important to us.  We couldn’t tell you how to design a programme for a track athlete or skeleton slider, but we can put together something that hopefully works for us in our positions and adapt to new ideas other coaches have.  What’s good for Lynne Beattie may not be good for Lizzie Reid, but they are two of the top jumpers in the team.  While Bertelli chooses to jump up and down during giddy celebrations, she needs different attributes as a libero to setter Morgan, for example.

We all have different physical strengths and weaknesses.  What works best for you?

Less cake....

The nutritionist – food for thought
A lot people know what makes a ‘healthy diet’.  What were fairly balanced diets in our squad have been tweaked considerably since learning more (and my frequent slice of marble cake now just an occasional treat, unfortunately) but for me the biggest impact is from pre and post activity food and optimising energy levels.

..more protein

Eating too many carbs in the afternoon makes me tired, eating more protein keeps my mind active.  Generally eating plenty of fruit and veg keeps my immune system a committed infection-beater, unless we’re off to a tournament in Kazakhstan, perhaps.

Most of us don’t pretend to know all the background (although sport science graduates like Grace Carter perhaps could), but we know excellent nutritionists who have been invaluable to help us understand what fuel our bodies like best so energy peaks, is sustained during Audrey’s killer court sessions and we recover quickly for tomorrow.  

The sport psych – the silent voice
In recent years we’ve been lucky to work with some brilliant psychologists and while it’s different for everyone, some of the best were those who’ve helped us to really understand ourselves better, ultimately allowing us to push our own boundaries as far as we will allow ourselves to go.  The easy stuff I have a familiar tendency to over-analyse but when it comes to analysing myself, I can find it pretty uncomfortable.  My most productive sessions have led me to reach my own conclusions, but with expert nudging, knowledgeable ideas and probing questions along the way.  It is then that I can really believe it.  After all, it is only you with the ultimate control, who has to stand up and deliver.

What gives you the edge?  What makes you tough to beat?  What makes you able to perform at your best over and over again?

The medical staff – the magic tape
It falls to these guys to know the anatomy, the biomechanics, the cellular physiology and the latest evidence based practice on how to prevent and treat injuries, and manage emergencies.  Pushing your bodies to the limit unfortunately sometimes results in injuries. For example, when a shoulder injury has occurred within our squad, the physio and doctor have educated players in how to strengthen the appropriate muscles, how to change technique and how to return to full strength post surgery.  It is then up to the athlete to follow this advice to get the shoulder stronger than ever and more resistant to injury.  Not all athletes are surgeons (although look out for hardcore Abi Walker, one of GB hockey’s goalkeepers and surgical trainee) but one of the best people to ask about the rehab of shoulder surgery, the process, what’s crucial, and the mental battle, is the athlete who has learnt on their own shoulder, from the guidance of a medical team.  Ask Rachel Bragg, Rachel Laybourne, Stacey O’Connor, Lucy Wicks…

Personally, like many of you volleyballers, I get pain knee pain (often appropriately termed, Jumper’s Knee).  I don’t need a scan/drugs/surgery – at least not yet!  It comes on predictably, after a hard week, when my leg muscles are like rocks and my iliotibial (IT) bands are tight.

Laybourne 'enjoying' an ice bath...

I need to stretch well, take an ice bath, soft tissue massage and the old trusted friend – the foam roller and perhaps some eccentric loading exercises that were taught by our physio a while back.  On another given day, this remedy may not work, and I might need more help from the physio.

Which activities make your muscles tight and more prone to injury?  How do you monitor your niggles and make yourself more resistant?

Rumour has it that the medical profession is one of lifelong learning.  We’ve come to realise that so is being an athlete – whether it’s your job, your primary sport or just for fun.  Know your body and your sport.  Everyone has an Achilles heel.  Make your weaknesses stronger and your strengths super-strengths.

We are very grateful to have had an input from many professionals including from the EIS Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and the medical/surgical teams at Claremont and Thornbury Hospitals, who have all given us the tools to know our own bodies better and optimise peak performance.

Let’s see what that looks like in Earl’s Court!

It’s not just volleyball, it’s an education….” Anon

Ozzie #3

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