The increasingly scientific approach to elite sport has left many of its finest exponents living the bizarre cross-life of a pampered Pharaoh and a lab rat.
On one hand every tiny whim and desire is addressed, not necessarily by scantily clad waiting girls but by professional coaches and conditioning staff, each one an expert in their respective fields.
On the other, top athletes are subjected to the almost intrusive invasions of their personal privacy with everything they do, think – and even eat, measured and monitored in the most minute detail.
For no-one is that more true than the England Sevens squad, a collection of around 20 finely-tined rugby-themed running machines, who spend their seasons travelling the world and competing in the IRB Sevens circuit.
Despite a strong finish to their campaign they haven’t had an especially successful time of it, being eliminated on the first day in six of their nine tournaments.
However, among the mitigating factors is an injury situation that has left Ben Ryan’s squad without some of their most experienced players – and brightest new recruits for much of the season. And that’s where Remi Mobed comes in.
The 28-year-old physiotherapist, from Bourton-on-Dunsmore in Coventry – and one member of a massive back-room team that includes video analysts, nutritionists, strength and conditioning specialists and even the odd rugby coach, has taken the already extensive data collection to a new level.
As part of his Masters degree the former Cirque du Soleil physio has utilised his expertise in helping circus performers recover during a hectic schedule of travel, perform, rest – and applied it to rugby players.
Central to his work is monitoring their sleep patterns and how they affect the chances of them being injured in training or competition.
Indeed after just a five-week study Mobed is already convinced there is enough of a correlation between sleep, recovery and injury risk, that he is about to dedicate the next six years of his career to a PhD that could revolutionise several professional sports.
That’s if his findings follow on from the evidence gathered from the England boys who wore actigraphy watches while they slept, which provided information on things like heart-rate and movement in bed,
Given the fact sleep is widely accepted as the most important element in recovery, Mobed could find himself at the vanguard of research into sport’s last major unturned stone. This could go way beyond the Sevens scene.
“You look at it on a much bigger scale,” Mobed said. “In financial terms if you say to clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and even NFL teams: ‘This player is worth £30-40m and that player is not available for a six-week period because of an injury’, that is massive money to them, not only from a wage point of view but maybe also from a competition point of view.
“It is going to be very difficult for us tosay we can prevent injuries like Gareth Bale’s for Tottenham against Basle a few weeks ago. You are never going to stop the collisions.
“But the question is raised, could you be better prepared for accepting that contact if you were in a more non-fatigued state.
“Someone like James Haskell is going to take a massive contact and he’s going to get an injury but if he is fatigued going into that contact is he going to come out with a bigger injury compared to if he wasn’t fatigued.” And that question can be taken a step further. How well do tired athletes perform?
The Sevens squad also kept individual sleep diaries, which Mobed compared to the information gathered from the watches and showed that athletes recover better from jet-lag than ‘normal’ people – but also that they massively over-estimate how much and how well they have slept.
That data has then been compared to the GPS information gathered by Sevens colleague Brett Davison, which plots how fast and how far players run in training and in games.
Clearly tired players won’t show up so well. Which leads to the conclusion that players’ performances could be predicted by how well they’ve slept. Not a leap Mobed is willing to take just yet.
“My heart is saying I would love it to be the case, that players could be picked using information about how they have slept. For that to be the case it would mean myself and Brett have been the founders of that but at the moment I can’t give a definite answer. This is going to be a six-year study that is going to involve a lot of extra work.
“How well athletes sleep could be factored into a coach’s consideration though, along with other variables like speed, strength. When we did the study one of our management team slept horrifically. If that was one of the players, for instance Dan Norton – our big star player who is sleeping that badly, would you want to sign him if he is that much of an injury risk?
“He may not have a massive injury history but would you really want to sign a player that is coming to training who is not functioning 100 per cent because he is not sleeping well? It is just another question that has been thrown up.
“This study was just meant to be a paper to tick a box and finish off my Masters but in the sporting world and the medicine world – and I can tell you this just from the amount of emails I have had from people, it’s created more questions than it has given me answers. There are so many things that need answering. I am hoping my future work will provide some of those answers but I don’t even know that yet.”
What is clear, though, is that Mobed could be about to demystify one of the last remaining unknowns in the lives of pharaoh-lab rats.