"It’s impossible to break him!" - Top sports scientist describes Ireland's most durable player
Stephen Smith, the founder of Kitman Labs – one of the world’s leading sport science and analytics companies – is our guest this week on The Architects of Business, our new show in partnership with EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™.
If you’re wondering what goes on behind the scenes of an elite Premier League or PRO14 club, Stephen Smith knows more than most.
The founder of Kitman Labs, Stephen - an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Finalist in 2016 - has worked with a variety of the world’s biggest sports teams, including Leinster Rugby, the New York Yankees and many more, on his way to launching a company that aims to improve performance and cut down on the injuries suffered by full-time athletes.
Speaking to host Tadhg Enright on The Architects of Business, JOE’s new show in partnership with EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™, Smith also revealed the Irish rugby players who defy logic as to their genetic make-up.
Listen to the full episode here (article continued below)...
“There’s people like Devin Toner, who people within the Leinster and Ireland set-up will laugh at because he’s not the strongest guy from a gym perspective, but he’s one of the most durable and resilient players I’ve ever seen,” says Smith
“The guy never misses a training session, never misses a game, he’s been going for more than ten years and he’s never had a single thing wrong with him. He just does not get injuries, it’s impossible to break him.”
Toner’s Leinster and Ireland team-mate Cian Healy is a very different beast, Smith says, but equally capable of defying logic in terms of his physicality.
“Cian Healy is an absolute freak! Cian Healy would go and take four or five weeks off in the summertime and years ago, when he probably wouldn’t look after himself as well as he does now, he’s a lot more mature now, but when he was younger he would go and enjoy himself on his time off.
“He would come back in, first day of pre-season, he would literally fill up the barbells. You couldn’t fit any more plates on – you’d have to elastic bands to hold the plates on because you couldn’t even fit a clip on.
“He would squat that ten times and look like he was going to jump it. He was twice as strong as other players and he wouldn’t even have to work for it.
Listening to Smith speak about topics such as player welfare and concussion is fascinating, given the recent focus on the Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, and whether his two massive errors in the Champions League final could have been caused by concussion.
For those playing professional or amateur sport at any level, he says, it’s important to look at the data his company collects.
“Some of the things that we have seen that are quite interesting in the data, is that we’ve seen athletes that have been concussed – and diagnosed with a concussion – are two to three times more likely to suffer a soft tissue injury within the next 12 to 18 months,” he says.
“That tells you something about what goes on from vestibular, co-ordination, balance perspective – or even reaction and co-ordination – and why are those athletes suffering soft tissue injuries? Is it because their co-ordination and reactions are not as good because they’re impaired?
“They’re things I’m really interested in because I’d like to see research to support it, to understand, should that person be back out there? Is there something wrong with their co-ordination? Can we rehabilitate that better?
“Can we prevent them picking up those injuries because of that?”
Having put in years of hard work to get Kitman Labs to a point where it’s seen as one of the world’s leading sports tech companies, Smith is keen to refute any notion that those involved in professional sport – particularly the players - have an easy way of life.
“Coming from professional sport, people think that you do show up at 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning, people run outside, have a kickaround and then they go home and play PlayStation for the afternoon – I can tell you that it’s not like that at all and generally most of those guys are in at 6am in the morning and they’re not leaving until 6pm in the evening.
“They’re gone away travelling at the weekends; yeah, there’s a down day from training every week but all of the guys who aren’t playing, or all the guys who are injured, they’re in on those days.
“And then, ‘yeah, all the holidays are great, you get four or five weeks at the end of the year’? Well, all the guys who are injured and are trying to get their place back, they’re not going on holidays and they want to stay around. It’s hugely time consuming so I think, coming into the professional world having actually built up that base, in Leinster, made it a hell of a lot easier.”