I think it is safe to say that with the advent of professionalism the word recovery took on a whole new meaning for rugby players. When I started my career all those decades ago it was the amateur era and the idea of refueling took on a very different meaning for some players!
To be fair a lot of players in the dying embers of amateurism were more professional than some of the players we see today; they sought advice on all aspects of recovery, from post training through to post match recovery including nutrition, cool downs, rest and hydration. Not all players paid so much attention to their recovery however, the disparity between fellow team members was sometimes huge and this differential caused huge issues within team performance. The teams in those days that embraced the idea that it was not just about how and when you played, it was also about how you lived your life all week stole a march on others. That disparity is not there anymore and players in the current game are extremely professional in everything they do.
When you talk about recovery people automatically just think about the immediate aftermath of matches but the fact of the matter is that recovery is an all week round thing. From my point of view I always think it is important to inform and educate through the conditioning staff and nutritionists so players are aware of what they need to do and at times they should have their hand held through the process but it must not be done in a way that becomes so dictatorial that the player loses the enjoyment in what they do. Like a good diet things can be done in moderation but the better players will implement things in a way that others within the squad will follow as they see the benefits to those leaders.
Recovery begins even before you train with sleep or rest, it begins when you are fueling before training or competition so your body is ready for the rigors of a game, it begins with your pre-habilitation and ends with your refueling after matches and training, your cool downs, your sleep.
On a typical heavy training day players will eat three times before they go home for dinner, including breakfast and two post training meals. There may well be protein bars or shakes after a gym session to allow them a quick energy source before they get ready for another session.
Players are monitored in training and matches through GPS trackers which effectively tells you how much distance they are covering and how much stress their body is under. They fill out wellbeing forms to let training staff know subjectively how they feel and this can be cross referenced with an Omegawave system which gives an objective measure of the player’s physiological condition to improve athletic performance and help avoid injury.
I have always considered one of the least glamorous jobs in sport to be when the sports scientist is testing a player’s hydration level and you walk in to find a table filled with test tubes of urine, which are to be examined for appropriate hydration levels. Not only should players rehydrate after matches and training they have to be conscious of the type drinks they are having all the time. You never say never but you have to careful of the amount of coffee, tea, fizzy drinks as much as you have to be careful of alcohol. Any diuretic is not good for you, so it is always best to drink water as your first choice but from time to time there is no issue in having a cup of coffee or a beer, we are not creating robots but from a coaching perspective you want to create good habits.
Recovery also relates to time between competition; there are weekends when a team will only have five days between matches, playing on a Sunday one week and the following Friday, and then there are times when players can have a nine day turnaround. Just because you have more time on your hands between games doesn’t mean you should train more, sometimes less is more as the physical toll that is on players bodies these days is just so intense.
It is called phasing when you look at the season and determine when the training load is high or low, you have to decide when players have time off to allow their bodies to recover but never forget that recovery can be of the mind too, there is a mental and physical requirement to everything we do in life and sport and you need time to stay fresh and motivated.
So recovery is an individual responsibility but there is also the collective buy in from everyone and also the planning and recognition from the coach that you cannot train and play all the time, time off at times can be better that just training. I remember at the start of professionalism people regarded rugby playing as a normal job and thought that the more hours spent in ‘the office’ the better player you would be. Now there is a much better understanding and those who look after themselves best tend to be the ones who achieve the most in a world where the margins are tight how you look after yourself can be the difference.