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We need to focus on sports medicine and science: Interview with former Indian cricket physio John Gloster

Gloster was among several delegates at the GoSports Conclave 2015, where panelists including P Gopichand spoke about sport in India.

John Gloster Physio GoSports foundation
An iconic name among sports physiotherapists, Gloster has worked with IPL squad Rajasthan Royals and several GoSports athletes

The GoSports Conclave, held on Saturday, the 5th of December, saw some of India’s most iconic names in sport take to the stage to talk about the importance of promoting homegrown Indian talent, the cause celebre of the GoSports Foundation.

The Foundation works with several talented athletes who may otherwise not have had access to the sporting facilities or training they currently do. Although most of the panelists expounded on the importance of coaching and its several aspects, iconic physiotherapist and sports scientist John Gloster, who worked with the Indian Cricket team for a number of years, spoke about the importance of focusing on and understanding sports injuries.

Although the injuries that sportspeople – mainly cricketers in India suffer are thoroughly publicized, rehabilatation and sports medicine are not given much attention in India, with both awareness and research fairly low despite the fact that India’s ‘God of Cricket’, Sachin Tendulkar, suffered for many years from a tennis elbow – an injury that made reams of newsprint, and one that Gloster saw the Little Master through, by his side during his surgery at London’s St John and St Elizabeth Hospital.

Since then, in addition to his work with IPL squad Rajasthan Royals, Gloster has worked extensively with several of India’s best para-athletes, among them champion swimmer Sharath Gayakwad.

Sportskeeda sat down for an exclusive interview with Gloster, who spoke to us prior to his talk at the conclave.

Although Sachin’s injury was publicised extensively in the media, there isn’t much awareness of sports injuries and sports science in India in general. Why do you think that is?

Yeah, that is an issue, although I do think Sachin’s elbow helped bring some sort of awareness to the fact that sports injuries are a thing, that they need attention. Awareness is still low, but it is there. During the IPL, when I worked with Rajasthan, we had Indian physios on hand, learning from us as we worked together with the team and worked on their injuries.

We all worked together with the players, and the younger guys drew on my experience and definitely learned some skills.

It’s really important to educate both public and professionals on how important it is to understand the science behind sports injuries, how they happen, how they can be prevented, and rehabilitation. That’s an issue that is largely overlooked here, and something that needs to change.

As a physiotherapist, the radiologist is my best friend. That’s the person who spots all the injuries, all of those weak spots, shows me the areas I need to understand and work on, and it’s a sentiment many others who work with sports and injury will understand all too well.

Researchers in the field need to help each other – that’s so, so important. They need to be collecting data, sharing that data with each other. Once they work off each other and work towards that goal together, that is what will benefit athletes, science, research. It will help us all understand injuries better, and in what is key, rehabilitation. Several sports have recovery and rehab rates of around 50%, but footballers have seen 97% recovery rates post serious injuries. Sharing that sort of data will benefit athletes across the board.

And educating people is important, too. It isn’t just scientists and those within the field, but even those watching. I worked at the NCA (the National Cricket Association, Bengaluru) with Andrew (Leipus) and Pat (Patrick Farhart, the current physiotherapist with the Indian Cricket Team), and a couple of younger guys.

A key fact we uncovered about injury prevention in research is that several injuries can in fact be prevented by encouraging physical activity in children. It’s something that’s heavily emphasized in Australia, and perhaps why the country’s been so successful in sports across the board.

Children are encouraged to be physically active and outdoorsy at a very young age, and that’s something that needs to be done here too.

Research has shown that tendonopathies – an incredibly common sporting injury, can be nearly eliminated by coaching and physical activity in early childhood.

What happens quite a bit in India is, when a child falls down, he’s fine – it’s families and minders who rush to his attention, asking him if he’s okay – and the kid, who hasn’t been crying upto that moment – suddenly does. That prevents him from exploring things, that rough-and-tumble is essential in the kid staying active.

I work with KOOHSports, which basically encourages children to start becoming active, playing outdoors, running. Especially when they’re older, if they do want to pursue sports, they will have staved off a lot of injuries.

That physical literacy is key in a child’s life as he or she grows; it isn’t just essential for health, but it helps them understand their enviornment, make key decisions, become physically and mentally independent. That will help them bounce back from minor, or even slightly major injuries, quickly.

There are a lot of decisions that go into play together on a cricket pitch, and when the guy who’s up to bat has a minor injury and immediately wants to go off, it prompts a whole host of new decisions; who’ll come on, will the 12th man have to be pushed up the order and where. It needs an immediate change in team strategy, and that’s true for the fielding side too.

They’ll need to change secret plays, decisions, targeted plans they may have had against the opposition, just because one guy has had a scrape that he could easily have brushed off.

As far as Indian cricket goes, the BCCI have been promoting it to some degree as we work together with Indian physios, but it really does need more attention.

When I was in India, and working with the team, it was crazy how much was attributed to me – sometimes even entire pages of news – to things I had apparently said, decisions I had taken, statements I had made, all of them entirely made up. It was staggering how much they came up with and said I did.

But physiotherapy allows me to be with my first love – cricket – and my second, medicine, as I work with athletes around the globe.

Concluding the interview, Gloster talks about how although it is his muse, cricket is not his only love.

Apart from cricket, I really enjoy motorsport  – Formula One is one of my favourites, and I was a big fan of Ayrton Senna.

I’ll be looking forward to Max Verstappen, I think he’s immensely talented and his father (the Netherlands’ most successful F1 driver, Jos Verstappen) knows that world, how it works, and should be able to guide his son through the sport. (Verstappen, who turned 18 only midway through the 2015 season, has shown himself to be extremely adept at overtaking a number of World Champions.)

I’m also a fan of Mark Webber, he’s still racing (Webber moved to endurance racing following his 2013 F1 retirement, won the 2015 World Endurance Championships with Porsche) and still incredibly enthusiastic about the sport – and he’s an all-round nice guy, too.

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