As I mentioned in my very first post, an injury first and foremost instills a sense of fear. As athletes, we know pain to be a frightening thing. It is not due to the aching, throbbing, or discomfort of it all, but because of the lack of knowledge. Every single person’s body is different and therefore, their injuries are as well. While doctors can provide a diagnoses or perhaps an estimated timeline, nothing is truly and absolutely guaranteed. Will our bodies make a full recovery back to normal? Will we be able to play to the fullest of our potential? The questions continuously and unwillingly circulate in our head.
This leads us to the big, important question of it all. How do we begin a mental recovery? We have been taken off the field maybe for a few weeks or maybe for many months. We lose the ability to do the one thing we know and love. We feel lazy and anxious sitting around day after day, so how do we fix it?
Well, honestly it cannot be fixed. A sport on the surface may seem like simply a group of people playing games for recreational purposes. However, it goes much further. Growing up playing a sport shapes the type of person and attitude you have in life. We are natural competitors at the core, and this causes us great difficulty in dealing with injuries. None of us want to let a minor bump in the road take us out of the addictive nature of competition. It puts everything around us to a halt, and we get stir crazy. We watch with envy as our teammates suit up for the big game and we lose our minds sitting there helpless during a competition.
When you add it all up, the mental toll of an injury, especially for athletes, is unavoidable. However, after being sidelined for various types of injuries, I learned a few important rules to help stay mentally involved and engaged.
- Be sad/frustrated/annoyed. Understand the situation and allow yourself to get angry or sad. Take a few days to regroup and process the situation. It is better to get it over with now than let it hit you in the upcoming weeks.
- Rehab, rehab, rehab. Even if you can only do a few simply rehab exercises, never skip them. If you ever have some free time, get more treatment and keep icing. There is always something that can be done. It cannot hurt and it will keep you busy and distracted.
- Concentrate on what you can do. Even after a serious ankle sprain, you still have the ability to gain muscle strength in your arms so go to the weight room. Try swimming laps or jogging in the water during your recovery process. By doing some type of exercise like this even if it isn’t running, you remain active and obtain some sense of accomplishment.
- Avoid excessive self-pity. You are not the first person to ever get injured, so try to avoid wallowing in the corner. While it is okay to get upset, do not let it affect your day to day activities or the overall attitude of the team. Encourage the players on the field and try not to think about yourself the whole time.
- Utilize injury as motivation. Yes, an injury will take you off of the field. However, as you recover, a fresh start develops for you. Come back in better shape with a stronger mindset than before. Take it as motivation to get better and exceed any expectations people may have for you when you get back.
Of course, things are always easier said than done. People can write dozens of lists, tips, or steps, but it can never prepare you completely for the real thing. Just take things as they go and think of the bigger picture. When the day comes and the doctor clears you for all physical activity in your sport, all of your hard work will pay off. The journey will end before you know it, and you will be back on the field doing what you love.