Amsterdam Collaboration on Health and Safety in Sports Director Evert Verhagen, PhD, Delivers Keynote Address on Leadership to Open 6th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium Hosted by Steadman Philippon Research Institute and USOPC
Apr 27, 2022
Verhagen emphasizes the importance of visionary leadership in medical team efforts to prevent injuries in sport and athletic performance
VAIL/COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – The 6th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium, jointly hosted by Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), kicked off Wednesday morning (April 27). The event, now in its third year as a completely virtual presentation and delivered live to physicians, scientists, athletic trainers and other health practitioners around the globe, began its two-day run with a keynote presentation from Evert Verhagen, PhD, the director of the Amsterdam Collaboration on Health and Safety in Sports.
Much of Dr. Verhagen’s presentation focused on the importance of the role of leadership by medically trained doctors, trainers and other health officials in their efforts to prevent and treat injuries suffered by athletes and performers.
Verhagen’s primary belief about leadership in the world of sports medicine is its importance in the bigger picture of injury prevention and treatment.
“Leadership is not something that can simply take over,” said Verhagen. “I think it can be supportive and conditional for successful implementation of evidence into preventive care or clinical care, because leadership is creating an inspiring vision of the future.”
“Leadership is managing the delivery of that vision process,” continued Verhagen. “And it's also coaching and building a team so that it's more effective in achieving their vision.”
Verhagen emphasized the importance of leadership in the medical trainer and athlete relationship.
“When you take care of an athlete, you probably do that as part of a multidisciplinary team. But even if you do it one-on-one, you are the leader towards the athlete. You need to take the athlete towards a specific end goal of your rehabilitation plan. “
Verhagen used an example from one of the world’s foremost military leaders.
“As General Dwight Eisenhower once told us, you need to consider that leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done, because he wants to do it. So basically, you need to convince an athlete that what you're proposing is actually what he wants to do himself.”
On leadership, he shared: “You can't really pinpoint what makes a good leader. The only thing I can pinpoint so far is that a good leader is someone who is honest, someone who is clear in what form of communication they employ.
“Leadership is simply never just about you,” continued Verhagen. “You need to empower individual roles within your organization to take responsibility. If you are one-on-one with an athlete who's under your care, empower that athlete to take his own responsibility. If you are within an implementation process that involves organizations that involve coaches, empower them to take responsibility for their power within that process.”
Delegation of duties is critical to good leadership in this field as well.
“You need to delegate. You can't do it all by yourself,” noted Verhagen. “You need to make this organization work for your mission. And if something goes right, you praise the team. If something goes wrong, you take the blame. Easier said than done, I know, but still an important guideline to follow.”
With these leadership points now in focus, Verhagen shared how much have they affected the outcomes in injury prevention.
“Basically, what we found is that injury prevention is a learning process,” said Verhagen. “And in that learning process, virtually everybody says that the entire staff that needs to be engaged in injury prevention. The entire staff needs to communicate with the athletes about the symptoms and injuries. So, it's not just the medical staff, it's also the coaches. It's also the support staff, and it's also the athletes themselves. And if you're the one in charge of the clinical care, then you need to take leadership because everybody looks at you.”
Verhagen considered the results of the process when clinical care is concluded.
“By actually not having a school intervention or practice mandated across a group of individuals and by having a supportive intervention that brings evidence in a tangible understandable way towards a system, we have evoked a cultural change,” said Verhagen.
The system is not that different from what happens day-to-day in the business world.
“We know that leadership is a key element of success for business management. So why would that be any different for us in the care of athletes?” asks Verhagen.
He cites a passage recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “Implementing these principles (practices) will require cultural change within sports and sports medicine because there are enormous barriers.”
This note led Verhagen to conclude with the following statement:
“In essence, we conclude in every instance that we need better leadership to manage change that breaks those existing barriers. So, I would say you need to only change yourself, so practice it, and we need to take the lead towards healthy performance.”
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