Making a Comeback After an Injury | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Making a Comeback After an Injury


About Me

Welcome back to this week’s Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m Rebecca Smith, a performance coach specializing in working with young athletes. Here, I tackle questions that have been sent in throughout the week either from members of the Perform Happy community or other people who have reached out for support.

If you like to get more opportunities to hear from me, you can join our Perform Happy community which is the complete online mental toughness training center where you can learn to overcome fear, find your flow, become mentally tough, and have support along the way. Or you can sign up for one on one coaching here. All right, so here is our question of the week.

Last week I sent out an e-mail about knowing whether or not you should quit or if you can get through it after an injury. After I sent that out I got an e-mail that said

Q: I’m just not really sure what to do right now. I’ve pretty much healed, it’s just that I’ve been off from gymnastics for like nine months and have hardly done any conditioning. I’m not really sure whether to go back or not. If I don’t, then I don’t have a sport anymore. I don’t really have that passion.


This person has had an injury, came back, healed from it and are at this place where their identity is pretty wrapped up in their sport, but their body doesn’t have the fitness.

I asked him a couple of questions, and he seemed really stuck. What I want to share with you guys are the two things that you must have in order to make a comeback. There are countless athletes who have made amazing comebacks. One of them I talk about all the time. Her name’s Marilyn King.


The Story of Marilyn King


She was a decathlete in the late 70’s, had all ready competed in one Olympics and was training for her second when she was in a car accident and she broke her back. She was in bed and her very highly trained medical staff were convinced that she would have a tough time ever walking again, let alone train to be a decathlete. 10 track and field exercises, they were like honey, that ship has sailed, we hope you can walk again, good luck.

She had this burning passion and said “I’m an athlete, I will compete, I will walk out not just be wheeled out. I will walk out at opening ceremonies for the Olympics.” And she knew, she had this burning desire. I will walk out and participate in the Olympics.

What she did from this hospital bed where she couldn’t move because her back had been broken, she visualized. She practiced what we call imagery, where she made this multi sensory experience in her mind. She felt it, she smelled it, she made it as real as she possibly could that she was training.

She’d show up, lace up her shoes, go through all of her drills and do a three hour training in bed as her body was healing. This is based on this goal that she had of “I will walk out at opening ceremonies.” She went through that for six months. Of course I’m talking about her so you guys can imagine it was a success, she walked out and she competed. She made a comeback. That just goes to show that if you want it, you can have it.


He Didn’t Take “No” for an Answer

Then another young man named Theo St. Francis came alone. He is a huge inspiration locally with a team of swimmers that I’ve worked with a lot through the past. He was a collegiate swimmer, and he dove into a sand bank on vacation and became paralyzed from the shoulders down. And he didn’t take that. He didn’t take “no” for an answer. He actually created this entire rehab system for people with spinal injuries, through Pilates. It’s phenomenal what this guy is doing with his life.

That injury, it can be the end, but not if there’s something burning. Not if there’s a desire deep inside of you. The two things you have to have if you’re going to make a big come back are:

  1. You have to believe in yourself
  2. Your ability to reach your goals


Believe in Yourself

Of course you have to have a goal. But you know if you want to get back to level eight, get back to level 10, get back and compete in college. If you’ve got to be able to see that picture in your mind of what you want to have happen. Theo, I’m sure, sees himself walking, running, doing all these amazing things. He’s a rock climber now. If you see it in your mind, that’s going to get you closer to getting there. You have to believe in yourself and believe that it’s possible.


You have to Want It

You’re going to have to want it so bad that you are willing to be unbelievably uncomfortable. That you’re willing to be humble. That you’re willing to go back into the gym and not be where you were. You have to be willing to be, to deal with that self pity that comes from that. That I’m not where I should be and I wish that I was and oh my gosh, why is my life so hard? It’s easy to go down that route when something’s not going your way and you’re going to have to climb yourself out of a hole just to get back where you were. But if you want it, then you’re willing. You’re willing to do what it takes.


Athletes who have Overcome It

  • Maria Sharapova – she’s a famous tennis player, she was dominating on the court in 08, and she ended up having to have shoulder surgery. She was out for seven months and she could have gone “well, I had a good career, I’m done.” But no, she made a comeback and she of course had this shoulder surgery and double faults more than she did before. She came back and is again one of the top elite tennis players.
  • Rafael Nadal – another tennis player who made a comeback. He’s a 14 time grand slam champion and in 2012, he had a recurring knee injury come up and he had to have a surgery. He was out for a year. And this is after in 07 and 09 he was out with the same injuries, they call him the come back kid. Because he will not be stopped by injury. He knows, “I am a top tennis player. And this is where I belong and this is what I do.”
  • Peyton Manning – in 2011 had a whole crazy spinal surgery, was out for a year, a year of not playing his best. And then made all these bests when he moved over to the Broncos and won the Superbowl in 2016 as a comeback. So there’s got to be the belief in yourself and the willingness to work hard to get there.
  • John Erasco – who is a male gymnast who was on the Olympic team in 2012, after getting through a torn achilles in 2010 and an ACL in 2012, he made a comeback and kept coming back. That’s what you have to have is that determination and the belief in yourself.


“I Will Reach my Goals”

One of the courses that I teach in the Perform Happy community is mental toughness boot camp. This is probably one of my favorite things I teach period because it makes things happen. It moves things in people. It digs into one of the requirements for mental toughness is an unshakeable belief in yourself.

Now, I’m not talking like “Yay, I believe in myself,” I’m talking “I will reach my goals. And if I haven’t reached them, I’m not done.” And that’s it. That is what elite athletes and Olympians have, is they have an unshakeable belief I will not stop until I reach my goals. If you don’t have that, or if that is clouded by fear, then you’re not going to be able to reach them.

You’ve got to cultivate that unshakeable belief of your comeback, and I’ll give you a little taste of what’s in that mental toughness boot camp course. You have to have goals, you have to have specific goals, you have to know exactly why you have the ability to rise above and get back where you want to be. Well, of course I’ll get back, because I’m tough. I’ve been through hard things before, because I got myself to where I am and I can get there again and yes, it was six years that it took me building up to this place to then have a year off, but you know what? I will build myself back up. You have to lean on past successes, that’s something that I help people do is figure out what can you lean on.


It’s Not Going to be Easy

What have you done, what have you dragged yourself through that has proven to you that you can handle this? No, you’re comeback is not going to be easy, but none of the good stuff is, I promise. You can lean on those times where you didn’t know if you would make it and you risked failure and you risked looking bad and not being at your best. And then you did it. That’s when you get the articles written about you, and that’s when you get spotlighted.

You then become this huge inspiration not just for yourself but for other people. So if you are considering coming back and you’re not quite sure, the question you have to ask yourself is do you believe it’s possible? If you don’t believe it’s possible and you aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, then it’s going to be a tough road. And for a lot of people it’s about being okay with where you are. You find the joy in your sport even if you’re not at that level where you want it to be.

Then I think another key point that this person brings up is can you have an identity that yes you’re an athlete but who else are you? Are you a friend, are you a family member, are you somebody who does good service to people in your community. If you can build your self esteem up on other things than just your sport, then your sport can be a source of joy and not just your self esteem. And that’s actually a really good way to build the right kind of passion for a sport anyway.


Wrap Up

That’s it for today on making a comeback. Please feel free to send me questions at, get on the wait list if you’re considering joining the community and getting access to the courses because we’re switching up the structure. I’m actually going to start selling the courses individually so if you want a chance to get access to everything at a low monthly price, then get on that waiting list right now – Perform Happy, otherwise stay tuned and get on the e-mail list so that you can be the first to know when those courses are available individually.

All right, I’ll see you next week.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.