In the third of my interviews I chat to Ed Barry, Ed’s career has seen him involved in 3 sports at an Elite Level. He played Junior Basketball at the highest level; he then rowed for Leander Club, Henley-upon-Thames and is now working for the Georgian National Rugby team, in their Medical department.
Ed and I have known each other since our first day of our under graduate degree, and have been very close friends since.
In this interview Ed gives us a detailed look at the workings of Elite Sport in a country where facilities and funding isn’t as prevalent as in some of the bigger Rugby nations and the challenges that go with it.
A great read, thank you Ed.
Max Curle: You and I have known each other since the first day of University, briefly explain how you ended up in Tbilisi and the steps you took to get there?
Ed Barry: When I chose to study Sports Science, I knew I wanted to be involved in sport but I didn’t really know in which capacity. The Sports Science roles then were very different to what are available now. After graduation, Sports Science was a great foundation leading me into Strength & Conditioning, which I worked on while I was rowing on a full-time rowing programme in Henley. While rowing I really became interested in the rehab / treatment side of sport science / medicine and came to consider what I would do post rowing.
In 2009 I began a part-time combined BSc/MSc in Osteopathy and during my first year of study I work shadowed the High Performance Manager for Wales rugby while Wales was preparing for their Six Nations test against France. This experience led me to Harlequins RFU where I was an S&C intern for the 2010/11 season. I continued to be involved with Harlequins on a part-time basis, initially with the S&C team and then working more alongside their medical team over the next two and a half seasons.
During the second half of my final year of study I had to stop my involvement with rugby to focus on my research and final exams. There was a lot of uncertainty as to what I would do post exams however while preparing for my finals I was approached by a World Rugby consultant, who was putting together a plan for Georgia’s 2015 Rugby World Cup, about a possible role in Tbilisi.
Following a couple of interviews I accepted a full time position with Georgia to set up their medical department for their rugby academy.
I made the move to Tbilisi in November 2014 and was fortunate enough to go to the World Cup with Georgia as part of their medical team.
MC: What has been the biggest challenge in working in a sporting environment in a foreign country, other than the language barrier?
EB: The biggest challenge has been the lack of good sports medicine provisions in the country. There is a lack of good surgeons here, radiography reporting is very poor and can often be misleading, and post surgical advice is often counterproductive by giving poor advice to our athletes which ends up delaying their return to competition.
MC: You have been in Tbilisi for 4 years now; explain your day – to – day responsibilities and what are your current commitments to the national team.
EB: Depending on how far out we are from an international window will depend on how many days our locally based national team players are in for training. At a minimum we have 2 days a week with them but the month before a window we will have them 4 days a week. On a training day we have a wellness block whereby we monitor the incoming players and assess for availability / modifications for their training day. Anyone who presents with an injury will be assessed for their involvement and for whether they need treatment or the referral to another medical professional.
Following wellness players have breakfast and anyone who needs treatment before the first session of the day (gym) will be seen during this time. During the gym session I will be working with any of the players who need modifications due to ongoing injuries, or carrying out rehab on our injured players.
After the gym session players will go to the field whereby I am on hand as a medic for any injuries that occur or I can continue with any on-field rehab, for example return to running for injured players.
Post session / lunch maintenance treatment or injury assessment will be done on flagging players.
My rugby days outside of the test windows tend to finish around 3pm, after which I may see other rugby players not involved with the national team or see some private clients as part of the clinic that services the entire rugby academy.
On non-rugby days we will bring in any of our players who need continued treatment or rehab as well as be available for our academy players who may get injured while training for their clubs.
During an international window, we are essentially available from 7:30am until 10:00pm, carrying out wellness monitoring, injury assessment & treatment, rehab sessions, covering field training sessions, implementing recovery strategies post training, as well as treating players who may have pulled up during training or who may be a doubt for training the following day. The goal is to keep as many players on the pitch as possible enabling the coaches to select from a full squad of available players. There will be a lot of instances whereby players will have modified sessions throughout the week in order to get them to the Thursday rugby training session. This session will tend to be the last high intensity session before the test match (generally the Saturday) and will involve a lot of contact. If a player cannot take part in this session, they are unlikely to feature on the weekend.
MC: Your journey to Georgia wasn’t a straightforward one; you have been an elite athlete in two sports, a personal trainer, whilst continually studying to improve your knowledge and skills. You have forged your own path, what has been the stand out experience of your career so far?
EB: From a professional standpoint it was being part of the medical team for Georgia at the England 2015 Rugby World Cup. The team upset Tonga in our first game of the tournament and went on to make history by beating Namibia and being the first Georgian side to prequalify for the 2019 RWC in Japan. Playing a small part in that was pretty special.
MC: When working with injured athletes what is the biggest challenge?
EB: I can’t define the biggest challenge, as not all injuries are the same in type or timeline. However, these are the common tough challenges that I face in this situation:
- Getting the player to buy into the process
- Motivating the player throughout the journey
- Challenging the athlete throughout the process
- Dealing with setbacks, which are inevitable especially with long return to plays.
MC: Following on from that do you find players are responsive and adhere to your methods?
EB: the majority of the time, yes. However I work in an environment/country whereby the treatment and rehabilitation processes in place are archaic at best. This means you have athletes outside of our system (or older athletes in our system) who may, for example, have played 5 months after having their ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repaired. The hard part is trying to then manage the expectations of the injured athlete by informing them their rehab is likely to take 9 months. So it comes down a lot to continually educating athletes as to what the gold standard is, as athletes will always listen to what they want to hear.
MC: You have been involved with two sports at the Elite level, Rowing and Rugby, both sports are influenced by body weight and body size, have you ever witnessed any less desirable way of athletes trying alter body composition?
EB: There is a lack of awareness and education around general health and supplement use in Georgia with respect to weight loss. I have witnessed some players who have tried old school tactics to “sweat down” by wearing a bin bag during a training session (not at our national team level but a couple of fringe players).
We have also had issues with players at national team level who when asked about supplement use they mention fat burners they bought off the internet. Obviously there is a huge risk with anything bought off the internet that is unregulated and so there is a continual need to remind players and continue to educate them around these areas.
In rowing I raced as a heavyweight and so there was no maximum weight restriction for me however the less body fat you raced with, the better. One summer when preparing for racing my coach wanted me down to 89kg (I was 93kg) and so I tried to calorie restrict myself, which is not the best thing to do when you are training two to three times a day! As a result my performances and immune system suffered but luckily I was able to recover in time to not lose my place in the boat.
There is a lot of pressure placed on athletes to maintain a desirable bodyweight and skin-fold percentage, often times without much thought to the psychological cost of this added stress. With some athletes who struggle with their weight there is more to it than just switching their sources of calories, behaviour change isn’t easy and requires a lot of support.
MC: Rowing is often seen as ‘old school’ in it training techniques, whilst certainly in England Rugby training is seen as more progressive, in your experience is this a true assumption?
EB: I would agree that was true up to 10 years ago in rowing, but now certainly at the international level there is a far greater input into the sport from S&C and Sport Science. This is down to UK Sport and Lottery funding that is available to Rowing, which also fund the English Institute of Sport, which allows for GB funded athletes/sports to have access to EIS performance staff (physios, S&C, sports science, physiologists etc).
What happens at international level slowly trickles down to the club level but there is still a bit of an “old school” mentality to club training.
Rugby turned professional in 1995 which opened the doors to increased finances for the sport and along with it developed a large body of S&C / Sport Science knowledge base. Professional teams now have up to 4 S&C staff, 1 sport scientist along with a up to 4 physios and so that alone drives progressive thinking and the pushing of boundaries of performance. Compare that to club rowing whereby the sport is still amateur, clubs have little finances, and the rowing coach writes the training plan, including the weights programme and the conditioning elements, as well as having to coach the rowing crews.
MC: I believe in modern Rugby there is too much emphasis on size and strength of the players and less on skill, what are your thoughts on this?
EB: In recent years that has definitely been the focus of northern hemisphere rugby which has seen the skill of academy level players being less developed in favour of size and strength. That then has a direct impact on the elite level of the game. That is now changing however northern hemisphere rugby has influenced the Tier 2 rugby nations whereby historically it has been about how much weight you lift irrespective or how well you lift it.
New Zealand are leaders in coaching and player development and they place a huge importance on skill development from a young age, and less on how much weight they shift. This was also seen in their rowing programme where their athletes spent more time developing water skills than they did in the weights room compared to the British athletes.
MC: If you could do one thing to improve the sport of Rugby what would be?
EB: I don’t know really know how to go about it, and this would translate to other sports as well, but I would like to see a shift in how players are managed. Currently players are seen as a product and it is in the best interests of a sports club to squeeze the most out of their product as they can. We see this in efforts in trying to reduce the Six Nations rest window and to lengthen the current playing season. It is the athletes who suffer with ever increasing injuries, as they are required to play more games in an ever-increasing physical arena. We are only beginning to realise the long-term consequences of playing such a physical sport and I don’t think there is enough in place to safeguard our athletes for the future.
MC: What are you individual plans and goals for the next 12-months?
EB: I am currently finishing a masters in Sports Medicine, Exercise and Health through UCL, for which I am undertaking my research project looking into the association between neck strength and concussion rates in rugby union players. We are also less than one year away from the start of Japan 2019 RWC so there is a huge focus on driving the team forward and improving within our own departments to give the best possible environment for our athletes to succeed. Finally, just around the corner in November Georgia will play Italy in Florence, which will be a huge game that everyone is looking forward to!
To see what Ed is up to please follow him on instagram @daydreamingleopard