Brad Pitt – poster boy for injury prevention?

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Since the popular movie Moneyball (in which Pitt is the protagonist), the use of statistical models to optimise sporting performance has become common place to a variety of sports, including Rugby Union. The successful Leicester Tigers (UK) have been “Moneyballing” for some time: http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/ibm-helps-leicester-tigers-predict-their-game-75406.

Through this statistical model, a team can establish which factors – for example a good night’s sleep or tackles made, are critical to optimal team performance. However, as Dr John Orchard, Australian sports physician to a numerous successful teams, says 1 – there is a vital factor missing from the original Hollywood Moneyball statistical model: player availability. The best player in the world is useless to a team’s performance is he/she is unavailable through injury. And the teams that perform best in a competition have the least injuries – scientific evidence to support this statement is mounting:

  • For the 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign, Prof Tim Noakes was asked by coach Jake White to guarantee the availability of his best 22 players in the World Cup final. Prof Noakes was able to provide 21 out of those 22 players – the Springboks won this tournament.
  • In AFL, the teams with the most injuries are also at the bottom of the table (http://www.afl.com.au/news/2013-05-21/injuries-take-toll-on-strugglers)
  • In the 2008/2009 Qatari soccer (football) season, the best teams had the lowest injury rates 2

So for those coaches and managers who see injury prevention as unnecessary or a waste of time, the message is clear: your team will not perform optimally unless you are considering injury prevention as a vital cog to your team’s performance!

  References:

 1.     Orchard JW. On the value of team medical staff: can the “Moneyball” approach be applied to injuries in professional football? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009 Nov 27;43(13):963–5.

2.     Eirale C, Tol JL, Farooq A, Smiley F, Chalabi H. Low injury rate strongly correlates with team success in Qatari professional football. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012 Sep 15:1–5. 

2 comments

  1. Benoit Capostagno (@BCapostagno)

    Great post James. I remember when the Springbok Sevens Team won the IRB World Sevens Series in 2009, they were the team that used the least number of players. Paul Treu was obviously able to select his first choice team due to player availability. The Blitzbokke won three tournaments on their way to winning the World Sevens Series that year. Interestingly this year, the team was plagued by injury, but still managed to win three tournaments and finish second overall to New Zealand. One could argue therefore that the large number of injuries had no effect on the team’s performance. However, the team was much less consistent in their performance this year and sometimes failed to win third tier (Bowl) of the tournament. This obviously cost them valuable points for the series. It would be interesting to look at the timing of the injuries to ‘key players’ and the performance of the team in the tournaments that followed. Could these injuries have cost the team the overall series win?

    • rugbyscience

      Thanks for the comment, Ben! I agree – the Blitzbokke did incredibly well despite their injuries…I wonder if things would have been different without those injuries to key players. Obviously, we will never know for sure, but my feeling is they would have been even better!

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