Sports medicine specialist Dr Akshai Mansingh, an advocate of pre-participation screening for athletes, received roars of approval for an Athletic Potential workshop held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) recently.
Under the theme, "Dynamics and Development of Athletic Potential", the workshop — attended by coaches, trainers, physiotherapists and doctors — examined ways for athletes to improve through the dynamics of sports medicine, particularly exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, psychological support, injury prevention and treatment.
"The incorporation of science in developing an athlete has been increasing progressively," noted Dr Mansingh. "And if Jamaican athletes are to maintain their competitive edge we need to embrace science much more," he added.
"It may be said that the dominance of West Indies cricket was broken down by introducing science into cricket and because we did not keep up with these advances we have plummeted to the bottom of the table. We cannot afford to allow athletes in any other sports to go this route," Mansingh explained.
A Campion College and Jamaica College past student, Mansingh said the feedback from the workshop was "tremendous".
"It was communicated by all groups that this was extremely useful. The handful of qualified sports medicine physicians and the newly qualified sports physiotherapists all contributed directly or through interaction to make the conference a success," he pointed out.
Presenters included Dr Yannis Pitsiladis, who has worked on the genetics of Jamaican athletes; Professor Karim Khan, a leading sports medicine specialist and Dr Craig Ranson, a sports physiotherapists at the highest level in cricket, athletics and rugby.
Also presenting were Kimberly Rudder, a sports nutritionist, as well as Dr Aggrey Irons and Maurice Westney, who brought expert local knowledge to sports psychology and training for competition, respectively.
Mansingh, who has a masters degree in sports medicine from the University of New South Wales in Australia, argued for obligatory pre-participation screening for young athletes in Jamaica.
The practice, he notes, "is mandatory for all persons engaging in any sports in countries like Italy. It is practised by most teams around the world. It consists of a medical screen ensuring that the athlete does not have any imminent life-threatening problem, along with identifying potential for injury.
"It is usually accompanied by an ECG heart tracing and blood tests. Fitness testing is done at different points of the season to assess the different components of fitness and see if there has been improvement.
"This is not commonly practised in Jamaica and only a handful of national teams, let alone school teams, undergo participation screening," he said.
The well-known orthopaedic surgeon who did research on bilateral quadriceps injuries in sportsmen, said screening was often conducted by doctors "not specialised in sports medicine and often is done by non-doctors as well".
"This is something that must be addressed as with our athletes performing at the level that they do, it is inconceivable that sporting bodies will allow players with potential injuries, or worse still, life-threatening problems, to represent Jamaica without any form of screening," Mansingh noted.
He also pointed to glaring misunderstandings regarding athletic potential, as revealed by Dr Pitsiladis.
"He has been unable to show any advantage due to genes. In extensive screening of Jamaican athletes and non-athletes, there has been no evidence to show that there is any genetic advantage to Jamaican athletes," he argued.
The workshop also highlighted the benefits of having enhanced assessment and execution of training programmes, including early detection of bio-mechanical abnormalities.
Participants from The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, St Kitts, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica attended the workshop which had presenters from Australia, Canada, UK, Barbados and Jamaica.