Hi everyone, Coach Taren here. I’m excited to come on today. Recently, I’ve had a handful of athletes that I’ve been talking to about coping with injury. I thought I’d come on for a special Facebook live to chat a little bit about coping with injury as an athlete, both from my experiences as a sports psychologist but also as an athlete myself.
Growing up as a competitive figure skater, you’re definitely not without injuries in your experience. I think I was lucky during my figure skating career to not have any major injuries that set me back or took me off the ice for an extended period of time. There were definitely little things here and there that were tough to deal with. I can remember feeling really frustrated that those things happened. They took me out of a sport that I love, and sometimes, at different points, definitely impacted confidence.
Finding My Passion
It wasn’t until later in my figure skating career when I actually had an ankle injury that took me off of the ice for a full year. A lot of my passion for sports psychology and working with young athletes came up during that time. I really started to think – how can I cope with my injury in the best way possible so that I can get back on the ice with confidence?
For many years, my greatest success in sport actually came after dealing with an injury that took me off the ice. I really want to impart some of the wisdom that I learned from my own personal experience from when I was an athlete. I’d also like to share my knowledge from after getting into the field of sports psychology – being able to talk with a lot of young athletes at different ages, different levels, different sports about their experience and research on how to cope with an injury as an athlete.
“I can relate!”
One of the things I love most about working with injured athletes, particularly in sports like figure skating, gymnastics, dance, cheerleading, is that I can often relate to many of the athletes that I’m working with. Recently, I have actually gone through seven knee surgeries at the latter end of my figure skating career as I managed to finish off competing at an elite level and doing some competing at the collegiate level.
This wisdom and knowledge has come in handy for me personally the last couple of years, and I want to break it down into some different strategies – how to deal with injury and how to cope with it in the most effective way so that you can get through that injury recovery period most successfully and also maintain confidence along the way so when you are cleared to be able to return to your sport as an athlete, you can do that while still feeling like you’ve maybe made the most of the time you were off or out of your sport. Also, being able to continue with training mentally, and then also being able to take some of those baby steps upon returning to your sport will help you get back up to the level you were at.
Injury Can Lead to Success
I’ve worked with many athletes. I’ve seen firsthand that going through that journey of healing from an injury can enhance resilience and make athletes stronger and in a lot of cases, more motivated because they’ve realized maybe how much they missed being able to participate in their sport while out. I’ve seen injury have very successful results for an athlete afterwards.
Follow Professional Advice
I think the most important thing when coping with an injury as an athlete is to, as hard as it is, follow doctor’s advice and the steps for physical therapy or rehab. I know that that can be really challenging as an athlete when you’re told that you need to stay out of your sport for an extended period of time or when you might need to have surgery or do something that might result in missing meets, competitions, or part of or a full season. That can be really frustrating and can often result in athletes feeling pretty angry or sad. That’s really normal. I don’t want to take anything away from that because going through an injury as an athlete is really, really hard.
Being able to follow the doctor’s advice, the rehab staeg is going to be a lot more doable if you have support around you, so I encourage all athletes to surround yourself with support, whether that’s from your parents, your coaches, your physical therapists, or fellow athletes.
Lean On Others
I really encourage any injured athlete to connect with other athletes, whether they’re their teammates or other athletes that they know who’ve gone through injury or maybe even who are going through injury. Connecting with those people can be really helpful – to be able to talk to somebody who’s also been injured or who is injured at the same time as you can make you feel a little bit less alone.
Being Injured Can Be Lonely
One of the things I see a lot is an athlete going through injury – you’re sidelined, not able to participate in what you love doing, it can be really lonely and it can feel like you might be missing out, maybe not getting to do things that you ideally want to be doing.
Being injured is frustrating and it can feel really lonely. I encourage any athlete who’s going through an injury to to connect with their support, their friends, their family, their coaches, whoever it might be during that time when you’re injured. It is really important to make things intentional. Maybe make plans with friends when you might not have made them in the past because you had your sport obligations, because you had to be at the gym or the rink or training. Making those connections and making time is really important.
The other thing is that even when you’re injured, there are still ways to practice. There are still ways to stay connected to your sport and keep your mind sharp and your body training even without actually doing the skills. The way you can do this is through imagery. I would encourage any athlete who’s going through an injury to create an imagery routine that you can do on a daily basis, even when you’re not able to participate or train full out in your sport. That might include:
- Watching videos of yourself doing certain skills or doing routines or programs in your sport
- Incorporating self-talk and focus words to be able to continue to connect what you need to be thinking about with seeing yourself doing those skills
- Bring in some of the breathing techniques to help calm and relax your body
- Close your eyes and see yourself doing a particular skill, imagining yourself doing a full routine
- Putting headphones on and listening to the music of your floor
Even when you’re imagining in your mind, you want the routine to be just like it would be when you’re up on the beam or out on the rink.
Find Ways to Move
For many athletes, if you are able to move at least a little bit while you’re injured, any movement helps. It might be standing up and moving your arms to create some of the arm movements that you would be doing in your routine or when you do the skill. For some people, it might be just standing up and walking the pattern of a floor routine. For skaters, maybe have a program on the ice while you close your eyes and see yourself doing it. You create some of that mind, body connection even without actually doing the skill. You can do this throughout your entire recovery process in different ways.
For some athletes, it might be going into the gym or going into the ice rink and standing next to the apparatus or standing next to the ice and watching in your mind as if you’re watching yourself on a movie. Watch yourself doing the skill, the routine, the program, to be able to stay connected and really remind your mind that you can do these skills.
We know that when an athlete does imagery, the same nerves that fire in their brain when they do the skill also fire when they imagine themselves doing this skill. So you really still are training even when you’re not actually doing those skills physically.
Imagery for Healing
The other thing I talk to injured athletes about is that you can actually use imagery to help with enhancing some of the healing of your injury. This could look a lot of different ways, but even being able to close your eyes and imagine the injured part of your body healing and recovering can be really powerful. Doing this can help build up some of that confidence of being able to know that your body is healing, but also it can create some of that positive emotion and sense of control that you are working and doing things in your power to help heal.
We also know that through imagery and through visualization, you can actually send some of the blood flow, send breathing, send your breath to a particular area that needs that in your body. So it might be closing your eyes and imagining bones healing and getting stronger as they heal from a fracture or a break. It might be closing your eyes and seeing muscles knitting back together if you had a tear or if you had surgery, and being able to see that injured part healing in your mind, taking deep breaths and sending your breath to that area of your body, or even being able to visualize and see some positive healing energy getting sent to that part of your body.
There are different scripts and types of guidance through this. If that’s something that would be helpful, I can figure out a way to share that with the community possibly in a blog post so that others can benefit from that.
Another thing in terms of coping with injury is that your mindset can start to turn negative, one because you’re frustrated, and two because an injury can feel really unfair and result in starting to think about a lot of the ‘what ifs’ for the future. This is why using positive self-talk when you’re injured is extremely important. It’s really hard to do, but it’s very important. I encourage any athlete who’s injured to continuously remind themselves of their positive attributes and their abilities in their sport – the things that they know they are capable of and the things that they’re proud of. A good way to do this is to connect with videos of yourself performing or doing skills in your sport. I know for me, when I’ve gone through injury, it felt really helpful to pull up videos of myself skating because it reminded me of the things I knew I could do and helped me feel confident about getting back on the ice.
You can set goals for your recovery, so use goal setting to help. It’s going to look different than when you’re at actively training in your sport, but set goals for achieving a certain range of motion in whatever the injured part of your body is. Set goals for achieving certain strength mile marks. A lot of this is going to be working with a physical therapist or a doctor to help with setting those goals, but I think those goals also help you feel a sense of accomplishment and feel like you are working towards something when you achieve them.
Goals can also be related to practicing imagery or things that you want to make time for to help move towards eventually getting back into your sport.
Patience is Key
As hard as it is, coping with injury requires taking small steps and being patient. I know that’s really hard for any athlete. I have been one my entire life and I know that being patient doesn’t always go hand in hand with a determined athlete mindset, but it’s really, really going to be important to be patient and be kind to yourself and take small steps. As the saying goes, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Don’t Isolate… Too Much
When you’re dealing with an injury you might feel sad and frustrated and angry. One of the things that human beings often want to do when they feel those things is to isolate or be quiet and not really engage with other people or other activities. I actually think this can be helpful at times and sometimes it’s needed, but I also think for any athlete who’s coping with an injury, it can be really important to stay engaged with the people and the environment that they love with their sport. That might be taking visits and going to the gym, the rink, practice, going and seeing your teammates going in, visiting with your coach, just going in and being in the environment to help stay connected.
Depending on the sport, depending on the injury, the athlete might be able to engage in some sort of conditioning, very modified, but might be able to go be with their teammates and do a modified conditioning routine based on what’s allowed by the doctor or the physical therapist. That can feel really important for an athlete to do that with their teammates rather than always doing it by themselves at physical therapy or at home and being able to spend time with teammates. I think that’s really powerful and healing, so make time to get together with teammates outside of practice rather than feeling like you’re healing from that injury on your own.
Easing Back In
Then, as an athlete starts to return to their sport, start with the basics. This does not mean that you can’t do the hard stuff, it does not mean you’ve lost it or you can’t do it. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it, but as I said before, we know that slow and steady wins the race when healing from an injury. Starting with those basics can be really helpful because just like when you first learned those skills, the basics are what starts to build up that confidence, so taking time to do the progressions to do the steps towards the bigger skill can help regain and refuel the confidence and continue to add money to the confidence bank, which we know is going to be so important when you get to do the harder stuff.
So take those small steps. Do the progressions. I think the more an athlete tries to race to the harder stuff, the more some of that self-doubt might come in, so start with the basics and go one step at a time. That’s another place where goal setting can be really helpful. Create that confidence ladder, create those progressions of steps that you want to take, and bring in a physical therapist, a doctor, or a coach to help with that. Then, as an athlete, you can feel more supported and maybe less alone as you work towards accomplishing those things.
I think any recovery from an injury is just like success in your sport. It’s not always linear, it sometimes goes in ups and downs and it’s a little bit of a roller coaster ride, and that’s normal. There are going to be different emotions that come with that.
It’s going to be frustrating at times, but I think things can be two things at once. Things can be frustrating, but they can also be really rewarding. Like I said at the beginning, I think a lot of athletes who go through an injury come out stronger, mentally and physically, because they’ve got to go through something tough. For myself, I knew at the beginning that going through an injury was not an easy thing and I wanted to be able to come on here tonight to just offer a little bit to my athletes out there and parents out there who are dealing with injury, who are going through that process of recovery and maybe give some, some strategies for helping deal with some of the frustration and the challenges that come with that.
If there are athletes out there who might be able to benefit from working one-on-one with some of these strategies, I’m happy to help. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions at [email protected] or set up a one-on-one to be able to talk a little bit more in-depth as it pertains to you or your athlete. Based on athletes that I’ve spoken to lately in this community, I know that there are a lot of young athletes who are dealing with an injury right now. You are definitely not alone in coping with the frustration and everything that comes with dealing with an injury.
I hope this was helpful. Again, feel free to reach out it would benefit you or your athlete or if there are further questions. I hope you all have a great night and I will be back on here soon.