Coach Diana’s Experience with a Sport Injury | Interview with Coach Diana

Coach Rebecca (CR): Hi, everybody. I am really excited to have a special guest with me today, Dr. Diana Lattimore, whom you may have heard of already because she is one of the members of the Complete Performance Coaching team.  We’re going to get to know her a little bit better, her story and what she has to offer, so that you can get an idea of, maybe she is the missing piece for you in your sport success.

CR: Diana, thank you so much for joining us.

Coach Diana (CD): Hi Rebecca.  Thanks for having me.

CR: Of course.  I would love to kind of have you start out by telling us what led you to pursue a career in Sports Psychology.

The Beginning of Coach Diana’s Career in Sports Psychology

CD: Well, first off, I had a career in athletics, so that was the first step.  For me, most of my life, I have been in gymnastics.  I started gymnastics when I was four years old, and really I started because I was following in my sisters footsteps, my older sister’s footsteps.  Then I did some other sports when I was in elementary school, and by the time I was in junior high, I really focused on just gymnastics.  By the time I was in high school, I was starting to get really serious about gymnastics.  My entire identity was wrapped up in gymnastics.  It was all consuming at that point. I wanted to do gymnastics in college and was fortunate enough to be able to go to a Division 1 university, a small division 1 university and compete.

CR: Okay, hold on.  I got to stop you there.  That is such an achievement.  You’re like, “Okay, so I competed Division 1 gymnastics.”  Every little girl I talk to, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, Division 1 gymnastics. That is the ultimate.”  Or the Olympics.  Those are what these little girls are busting their butts all week to get.  So let’s back up.  Were there any moments where you felt like, “That is just too big of a goal. There’s no way I’m going to get there.”?

CD: You know, I don’t know that I felt like I wasn’t going to get there.  I didn’t know.  The challenge for me was I had some nagging injuries, pretty much every year in high school.  My freshman year it was ankles, my sophomore year it was my hip.  I had different injuries along the way that weren’t serious, but they were nagging.  When it was time to do videotaping, and when I was going to college, they didn’t start recruiting five years ahead of time like they do now.

CR: Yeah.  I know, it’s nuts.

Injury Caused a Delay

CD: That was probably better, actually. I got a late start trying to get into colleges in terms of gymnastics, because I was injured.  Just getting videotapes ready and done was a little bit delayed because of my injuries.  That was a little bit scary.  Then, I just went on.  I had to be a little proactive because of that.  Instead of having a bunch of coaches call me, I reached out to them. Then I went on some recruiting trips, a couple of recruiting trips.  I would say I was fortunate that then I was able to get on a Division 1 team, but there’s Division 1, there’s Division 2, there’s Division 3 that all have gymnastics programs.

For me, college gymnastics was the best time of my life.  Anybody who is wanting to do gymnastics, I would say keep working for it and keep your options open.  Don’t be tunnel visioned into a specific school or even a Division, because there’s so many good programs out there that may not be Division 1.  There’s smaller schools, whether they’re Division 1, 2 or 3.  If that’s a passion for you, I would say there’s lots of avenues to try to get there.

Looking Toward College Gymnastics

CR: I remember when I used to coach gymnastics, we would take our little ones to a college meet every year.  The fire that would turn on in their eyes was unreal.  I mean, these little girls went back to practice and were like, “Let me try it again. Let me try it again. I can do it, I can do it.”  I mean, just to see that team spirit and those high 10s, 10 of them in a row, and smacking butts.  They’re really pumped about each other’s routines, it’s definitely a different energy than like the super serious club sport vibe.

CD: It really is, isn’t it?  It is so fun.  I have to say from a college gymnast perspective, it is really motivating for us, as well, to have all the little kids come and watch.  We get to show off – it’s just fun.  Then we get to talk to them afterwards, usually sign some autographs, and that’s a huge boost to us.

CR: Awesome.

CD: I judge gymnastics and college gymnastics, and I have to say, going in and judging is such an amazing atmosphere.  To give a 10 is even more incredible.  You get nervous, but it’s so fun.  To see everybody, fans and gymnasts go wild.

CR: Okay, parents.  Get your little ones to a college meet as soon as possible.  It’s the best experience if you haven’t had it yet.

You got through these nagging injuries. I mean, I had the same thing when I was a gymnast.  It was the ankles, it was the back.  That’s part of life, right?

CD: Right.

CR: But then, in college you had a major injury.

Coach Diana’s Injury in College

CD: I did.  It was actually December 30th.  I will never forget the day. I  was on uneven bars and I fell.  I had actually been out for two months prior to that because I had mono.  When I came back right after Christmas, I had to change my routine.  I had to take out my hardest skill and it changed my whole routine.  Going into another skill, I had a totally different swing.  I felt like every time I warmed it up, I was just going to fly off the bar, peel.  I went and I told my coach that I felt like I was going to peel and he said, “Okay, let me watch.”  He watched as I peeled and flew right over the bar.  I was in enhancing position, because I was going to land on the low enhanced stand, and I just fell right over it.  I remember coming down thinking, “Tuck your head and roll.”

It all happened so fast.  I also remember thinking I’m not going to make it past my head.  I don’t know if instinctively I put my arm down or if just caught, but I dislocated my elbow. When I went to the emergency room, the doctor reduced it and kind of failed to look at the right x-rays I think.  He told me that I didn’t have any bone chips and that I would be back in six weeks.  I thought, “Six weeks? Oh, my God.”  That sounded so long.  But as it turned out, I did have a huge bone chip, the size of a quarter, and you can’t leave that floating around.  I had to have surgery.  Immediately, I had surgery and they pinned it back together.  Then the doctor left me immobile for about eight weeks.  What happened is, I came out of that and I was immobile for 13 months.

CR: Wow.

CD: I had no mobility of my arm.  Fortunately, with a few more surgeries and 13 months of physical therapy, I was able to regain almost full movement of my arm and was able to go back to gymnastics.

CR: Now, that 13 months I’m guessing was a rollercoaster of emotions for you.

13 Months of Being Unable to Mover Her Arm

CD: Oh my gosh, yes.  I actually call it my “hell year”, and that was just the start of it.  In retrospect, I think that was the easy part.  It was really hard physically getting through, I mean, just trying to get my arm to move and doing everything possible, and I was very motivated to go back to gymnastics.  My whole tunnel vision was to get back to practice.  I did anything that the doctors told me, the physical therapists.  My physical therapy was really brutal.  That was really hard, and to go through all of that and to see no forward progression, or very little forward progression, it really started impacting me psychologically.  I would say that was the much harder recovery and just trying to get through that.  At the time, I should have been diagnosed with depression.  I wasn’t because I didn’t even know to go see somebody.  But definitely, now that I know what the symptoms are and the criteria is, I’d certainly fit that criteria.

That was probably one of the biggest emotions that I felt throughout, but then there was also frustration and a lot of fears of coming back and whether or not I would be able to come back. If I did come back, would I be as good as I was before?  Being out so long, was I going to be replaced?  Was I still going to have a spot on the team?  All of those things.

CR: Those are common fears I think with any team sport.  It’s like when you have any kind of setback, it’s this huge fall out of, “Okay, who will I be on this team?  And who will I be as person?”

CD: Yeah, very common.

CR: Then you got back to it and you were able to come back and continue your career.

Coming Back from an Injury

CD: I was able to come back a little bit into my sophomore season.  I missed the first part of it.  I don’t really remember how long, but I came back.  I remember I was released from the doctor and three weeks later I was competing.  For anybody who’s been injured, when you can’t workout on some body part, the muscles all atrophy.  Without having any mobility in my arm for 13 months, my arm looked like a spaghetti noodle.  Not only was it weak, but I hadn’t had any time to really build myself back up.  My team was pretty beat up.  As soon as the doctor said, “You’re good,” my coach was like, “Great, you’re going to compete.”  I had to water down a lot of my routines and that was hard for me. I  mean, I felt like, wow, some of the skills that I was doing I had done five years earlier.  That was another beat down to my psychological self.  I felt pretty low.  That was a challenge as well, just getting myself back and not really having the time, the appropriate time to do it.

Eventually, I was able to get through it all.  By the end, by the time I graduated, my last gymnastics meet was my best gymnastics meet.  I was able to come through it all.  The one regret I have is before my senior year, I decided to stop working bars.  I did that because I was wanting to get into our floor lineup, and to do that, I really needed to have some more skills.  I was trying to work on this triple full.  I gave up bars and my coach let me do it for the summer.  When we came back for the fall, I asked him if I could work bars again, because I was kind of ready to go back to bars.  He said, “No, I don’t want to risk you on bars.  I need you to be able to compete on balance beam and vault.  So, no.”

Post Recovery Fear

CD: I didn’t get to work out on bars at all for the rest of the time.  When I finished everything, I went back into the gym the next week and I worked out on bars.  Honestly, I couldn’t miss a skill.  I don’t know what that was all about.  The reason I had given it up is because I had gotten so scared of that event.  I just couldn’t work through it, and I didn’t have anybody, any sport psychology professional around to help me work through it.  I didn’t really have the tools to do it.  That whole experience is really what got me into sports psychology.

My undergraduate degrees in psychology anyway.  I always had a liking to that.  But after experiencing all this it took me into sports psychology and finding that world.

CR: I love how, like our biggest disasters, or our biggest kind of weaknesses as athletes tend to be what drive people into sports psychology.  Mine was fear.  Fear completely destroyed my gymnastics career, and it’s now what I specialize in.  You specialize in injury recovery, right?

CD: I do.

CR: I just love that.  It’s like you got this incredible experience of the lows and the highs of coming back.  Then of course, love that as soon you were literally doing it for fun, you get up and nail your bar team.  That’s how it goes, and whatever sports psychology professional had been able to help you find your fun way earlier on in your career.  Just the possibilities are mind blowing.  What if I had learned how to get through my backward skills when I was 14? Who knows?  I could have been out there high-fiving at college too.

CD: Exactly right.

CR: And we’re so lucky to be able to be in this position where we can help these younger athletes just have a little extra edge and hang onto their joy a little bit longer.  I just think it’s interesting.

CD: Yeah, and have the confidence while they’re doing it.

CR: Yes, and that’s your other specialty, right?  It’s helping people who may be have lost their confidence.

Losing Self Confidence

Coach Diana: Yeah.  There’s a lot of athletes out there that struggle from time to time. That’s one of the areas I really enjoy working with athletes on, is just trying to help them find their confidence, regain their confidence, and a lot of that has to do with fear.  Whether it’s fear of a skill, or fear of failure, or feeling like they’re in a slump.  I heard a lot of baseball players feel like they are in a heating slump.  Just trying to refocus, figure out what to focus on.

CR: That’s awesome.  Now, you don’t just work with gymnasts, you’ve got tons of experience working with all kinds of different sports.  Who are the people who should come find you and work with you?

CD: I have worked with several different sports.  I have a lot of baseball players, gymnasts, track and field, soccer players, volleyball, basketball, all the major sports, swimming and diving.  I run the age gamut, but particularly, I work with a lot of high school, college age athletes.

CR: Awesome.  But of course, you can handle a nine year old.

CD: That’s right.

Reaching Out to Coach Diana

CR: Yes, because there’re a lot of scarcities out there that are nine, so you never know.  You are the girl for anybody who’s out there getting closer to college.  Maybe in the recruiting process, maybe overcoming an injury, or starting out their season in college, or anybody who just feels like Diana is amazing.  You guys can reach out.  And of course, you can reschedule a free consultation with any of the Complete Performance coaches at completeperformancecoaching.com/schedule.  Anybody can snug a 20 minute session with any of us.

CR: Let’s finish the story, from you getting your degree, and then you went on and got your doctorate.  Now, what else keeps you busy?

Where is Coach Diana Now?

CD: Well, so I am a full time professor, so that keeps me very busy.  I teach in San Francisco at the University of San Francisco, and my area is sport and exercise psychology.  I have a lot of athletes in my classes, about the psychological things that athletes go through, positive and negative, and then I try to give them some tools to kind of take back to their teams.  I have a lot of students that are going to be in the medical field.  I really feel it’s beneficial for doctors and physical therapists and athletic trainers to understand that, especially with regards to injury, it’s such a psychological process as well.  They don’t have to understand all the ins and outs about that, but if they can appreciate that that’s a part of it, then they are more equipped to refer people out.  To refer the athletes out to get the help that they really need to kind of recover and from all aspects.

CR: Wow, it’s so awesome.  Again, as a coach, you are coach too, we would send our kids to the doctor, and the doctor would say, “Yeah, you’re out for a year.”  Like, okay, where is the gymnastics doctor?

CD: Exactly.

CR: What can they do, how to limit, continue them on the path where they can be building confidence, building strength, staying in their social environment, meanwhile, not making it worse.  It’s a delicate balance and you need a really strong team of the doctors, and the psychologists, and everybody, and the coaches, and the parents, and the athlete to really get that re-entry to sport to be as efficient and smooth as possible.

CD: That’s true.  If you can have everybody on board, all those different people, it is just a much more effective treatment and recovery of anything.

CR: Wonderful.  Now, anything else that you would say to sport parents who are dealing with an injured athlete who’s feeling down on themselves?  What would you say how to help and support a kid who’s going through that?

Coach Diana’s Advice to Athletes

CD: I think one thing is to recognize that that’s normal, like this is what happens, you go on this emotional rollercoaster.  On days that they feel good, you think great, but don’t don’t feel bad then when the next day they’re frustrated and maybe even angry.  One of the things I found working with injured athletes, is their mood is very variable.  It really varies a lot on whatever the injured body part is, how it feels.  If they wake up in the morning and that body part feels pretty good, loose, it may have pretty good mobility, they’re in a pretty good mood. If they wake up and they feel like it’s tight, sore, doesn’t move a whole lot, then their mood might be really bad, and they tend to take it out on everybody around them.

The other thing that athletes do is they tend to push the support away.  You as a parent might be trying to do everything you know to do to be very supportive and your kid is still pushing you away.  Just understand that it’s part of their process.  Try to still give them a little support so they know that you’re there when they’re ready for it.  Let them take their own journey because that’s what they need to do.  I would also say that one of the best things that any injured athlete can do during this time is to pick up a journal and start journaling.  If we don’t get our emotions out, the emotions don’t go away.  They just keep resurfacing. One of the ways to do that is to journal.

Coach Diana's Experience with a Sport InjuryCR: Yup, and they come out in not the most convenient ways.  They pop up when you are yelling at your mom, or somebody says the wrong thing and you burst into tears.

CD: A pin drop.

CR: Yes.  Good advice.  That’s awesome.  Again, if you guys want to have a little chat with Diana, it’s completeperformancecoaching.com/schedule.  You can get on and see if it’d be a fit for her to guide you through whatever you’re going through, or even if you’re having the best season of your life and you want a little extra mental edge.  She might be your lady.  All right, Diana.  Thank you so much for joining us today.

CD: Oh, thank you, Rebecca.

CR: We’re looking forward to hearing more from you on the podcast and on the Facebook lives in the future.

CD: Okay, great.  Thanks.  I’m so glad to be part of the team.

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