Dr Wayne Diesel – My Long Walk to Retirement – Injury Rehab Network Event


The second Injury Rehab Network event in March 2023 featured Dr Wayne Diesel, Physiotherapist with PhD in Exercise Physiology. The event took place on the evening of 9th March 85 sports rehabilitation professionals were in attendance either online or in person at Steroplast Healthcare in Manchester.

Wayne’s presentation explored the lessons learned from a global career in professional and elite sports. The recording of Wayne’s presentation is available to watch here.

wayne diesel

Dr Wayne Diesel, Physiotherapist with PhD in Exercise Physiology

Over the past 30 years, Dr Wayne Diesel has gained extensive experience working, as both a physiotherapist and Head of Department, across 3 continents and multiple different sports. Teams include the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), Miami Dolphins (NFL), Tottenham Hotspur and Charlton Athletic (EPL), Gloucester Rugby, Springbok Rugby, Bafana Bafana, Western Province Cricket, South African Field Hockey and South African Women’s Gymnastics. As well as the Head Physio for South African Olympics (1996), Commonwealth (1998) and All African (1995) Games. These experiences, plus a passion for continued academic involvement, taught him the value of working within a truly holistic interdisciplinary team.

At the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), the performance team comprised of Athletic Trainers, Physiotherapists, Sports Scientists, Strength & Conditioning coaches, Psychologists, Nutritionists, Pilates-trained S&C coaches and Massage Therapists. Over the three seasons with the Spurs, his role as Director of Player Care was to coordinate performance initiatives provided by the different specialists and collaborate with the Medical Department.

Since semi-retirement in June 2021, he has maintained his physiotherapy registration in the UK and USA, regularly reviews scientific articles prior to publication, awarded a Fellowship to the Carnegie-Wits Alumni Diaspora Programme, and accepted an offer to be a scientific advisory board member for Euleria, a company specialising in tele-rehab using gaming-technology. Wayne’s personal objectives are now to give back to the physiotherapy profession by encouraging and mentoring young aspiring physiotherapists. In addition, working together with a team’s medical department to provide additional therapy to individual players on a consultancy basis is his goal.

My Long Walk to Retirement

Wayne’s talk, “My Long Walk to Retirement”, focused on key aspects and lessons learned from working in different sports and countries.

Wayne discussed his experiences with elite and professional athletes. His view is that the strongest athletes are those who have participated in different sports and developed a range of fundamental skills rather than specialising early on.

Wayne’s career has spanned three continents and seven different sports. He started work in South Africa, gaining experience in gymnastics, field hockey, cricket, rugby, soccer/ football, and elite/ Olympic sport.

Wayne was keen to challenge himself and work in a new country, so he took the opportunity to work at Gloucester Rugby in the UK. Wayne also gained experience working in football at Charlton Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur.

In the USA, Wayne worked with San Antonio Spurs and Miami Dolphins where he took on the challenge of working in new sports and meeting the requirements of the healthcare system in the states.

Wayne’s presentation covered several themes with stories, quotes and advice for practitioners working or studying sports medicine.


Wayne described the importance of facing and overcoming adversity both for athletes and practitioners working in professional sports. Wayne discussed how he was injured as a young sportsman, and his team encouraged him to take on the role of physio. This life-changing moment led to Wayne’s career as a Physiotherapist and is how he met his wife. Wayne’s advice is to turn adversity into opportunity.


Wayne discussed the importance of good leadership in interdisciplinary teams in elite sports. He described a quote from Nelson Mandela about leadership, “Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front.”



“It is amazing how much people can get done if they don’t worry about who gets the credit.” President Harry Truman.

Wayne discussed how teamwork between everyone involved in professional sports is essential for good performance. The sports teams that Wayne has worked at often took part in challenges and team-building exercises.


Throughout his career, Wayne has always strived to learn and challenge himself. Wayne has completed degree courses, ensuring his physiotherapy registration and membership in associations are up to date.

Wayne has completed a range of research with published papers. He has also contributed to books and journal reviews.

Wayne’s advice is to keep learning to progress and to learn through teaching others. Wayne has taught at universities around the world and continues to provide guest lectures. He also provides regular presentations/ podcasts for different sports organisations and associations.

Wayne enjoys helping practitioners through mentoring, where he can focus on vital soft skills, including communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence.


Wayne discussed how belief is essential in both injury rehabilitation and sports performance. His advice is to be open-minded about different approaches to therapy and faith-healing methods.

Wayne described how he tries not to be rigid in relation to clinical treatments and is positive about patients’ preferences for treatment. Whilst the evidence base may not support all methods, alternative treatments may prove to be successful and can sometimes defy science.


Wayne discussed the importance of embracing diversity and different cultures and that interdisciplinary teams are best with a diverse range of team members. He gave the example of the South African football team, who warmed up by singing and dancing. This is very different to some Western approaches, which can be rigid and often serious but offers an alternative means to achieve the same result.

Wayne described how sports could unite people from different cultures and backgrounds.


Wayne considered trust in the context of sports medicine where it is essential to have trust to get results. He gave an example of how this can be particularly important when using manual therapy techniques for the neck and back.


Wayne discussed how it is important to be able to listen well to lead well. Practitioners should be open to different perspectives and encourage conversation. Wayne also listens to tissue through his hands and is a big believer in using hands for the assessment and treatment of sports injuries.


Wayne considered how preparation is vital for emergency care in sports where interdisciplinary teams should train for and be prepared for the worst. This was demonstrated when Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest and received immediate expert care from the paramedics, doctors, and medical team on the pitch.


Some people may think of routine as superstition. Wayne described how he has observed that the most successful athletes follow routines. These routines help to create automatic behaviours which minimise stress and improve efficiency.



Wayne discussed fundamentals in both sports performance and sports medicine. The best coaches that Wayne has worked with focus on fundamentals first and getting the basics right for their sport. In sports medicine, the basics may include screening, assessments, and clinical reasoning.


This is about keeping going through tough times, and Wayne gave examples of athletes who aren’t necessarily the most talented but have the willpower to keep trying and to want to be the best.


Wayne described how resilience could be turning failure into success and having a continuous improvement culture by learning from mistakes. Fail to succeed and if things don’t go right, learn from it.

Winning and Losing

Wayne used a quote from John Maxwell to illustrate a winning mindset, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”


Wayne discussed the importance of everyone taking accountability for their work and how with responsibility team members can have autonomy to contribute to the overall goals of the team.


Wayne described how professional sports could be a highly demanding and potentially stressful environment, with practitioners making sacrifices for their work. It is therefore important to find ways to have fun and enjoy yourself. Sports can take you to amazing places and provide fantastic opportunities.

“Just play the game. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” Michael Jordan.

Anything is possible

Wayne’s advice is that anything is possible with belief and hard work.


Wayne encourages those working in sports to believe in their dreams and trust in themselves. Have courage, and dreams may come true.


Wayne discussed how being curious is essential and that practitioners should see the world with open eyes to explore possibilities.


Wayne described how lifespan is the total number of years we live, whereas health span is how many of those years we remain healthy and free from disease.


Wayne is thankful for his family and recognises the unwavering support and sacrifices they have made as he pursued a global career in professional sport.


Wayne is now semi-retired and working on different projects, including:

  • Support for Reb Bull mountain bike athletes
  • Guest lecturing at the University of the Witwatersrand
  • Scientific advisory board member for Euleria, a company specialising in tele-rehab using gaming-technology
  • Advisor for PlayWize


Wayne kindly answered questions put forward by the practitioners who attended the session.

Q1. Is there a difference in physiotherapy treatments available across the continents?
A1. South Africa has more of a focus on holistic and faith healing but is very similar to the UK from a clinical perspective. In South Africa, physios can blend clinical treatments with other approaches and bring a more holistic approach to the team environment.

Q2. How do early career clinicians get an appreciation/ experience of other approaches to medicine?
A2. Be curious and find opportunities to learn about different approaches. Find out which treatments patients like and bring practitioners for different approaches into the team environment.

Q3. What has changed, and what are your hopes for the sports rehabilitation industry?
A3. There is now strong recognition of the importance of soft skills in an interdisciplinary team environment. Online/ telemedicine can play a great role in improving access to services.

Q4. Did you have a goal to work around the world in professional sports or go with the flow?
A4. I engaged in and loved work. I have assessed opportunities and taken those that enable me to challenge myself and learn.

Q5. What have been the main changes in women’s sports medicine?
A5. Women’s sport has blossomed in recent year’s and it’s right that inequalities continue to be challenged and addressed. Resources are growing for professional sports and the support available through medical teams. Sports should be equal.

Presentation Recording

The recording of Wayne’s presentation is available to watch here

Follow Wayne Diesel


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