Hey guys, it’s me, Coach Rebecca. Injury is unavoidable, and today I am going to be answering a question from one of the Perform Happy members whose daughter just got hurt during the season.
Kara asked this question in the Facebook group, ” my daughter got hurt (first injury during competition season) during her first level 8 meet yesterday. She moved down to level 8 to take some pressure off after developing a mental block on her round-off back handspring layout. She is feeling pretty defeated today, any advice for mom or athlete is appreciated!
Helping an athlete cope with injury
There are some common emotions that happen for athletes who have been injured during competition season. A quick list off of the top of my head would be anger, denial, sadness, depression, and feelings of unfairness. Not only are they emotions, but they are also BIG emotions, and that is normal, healthy even. The best thing an athlete can do is to emote, to allow her to feel. Don’t try to fix it, don’t try to solve it, just let her be and let her feel her emotions.
You might notice that she isn’t really finding interest in things that would typically interest her. Depression and anxiety are very common in someone who has experienced an injury. So, when the big feelings show up, let them be felt. Make sure the athlete feels heard, and allow them the space to be with the feelings they are feeling. If your child is someone who likes to write or likes to journal, that can be a great outlet for them and for a way for them to process what is going on inside. It can be a place to express while they feel safe, to feel like they have some control. Often injured athletes feel a complete loss of control in their lives.
Injury tears apart the timeline
Most competitive athletes have a timeline. Whether they have actually written it down or it’s just constantly in the back of their mind. They have a timeline of skills to land, levels to move to, competitions to win, success to have. No one accounts for an injury, no one builds that injury into their timeline. Injury takes that timeline and flips it all upside down. The hard part is that most injuries don’t have an exact timeline for healing either.
Information about the injury
The first thing most athletes want to know is everything they can about the injury. What is the injury, how did it happen, how does it heal, how long does it take to heal? Knowing all that they can about their injury gives them back some degree of control over what is happening around them.
The hard part is getting them to understand that it HAS to be a part of the timeline from here on out. You cannot rush the healing process. They have to do the rehab and they have to really heal before getting back on the bar or the mat. Being realistic about the timeline of healing can allow the athlete to really start to process the time that will be lost as well as the possible process in their original timeline that might be lost.
The unkown injury
If you run into a situation where the timeline of the injury is unclear that is okay too. Bring awareness to the hope of competing in the next meet, but it’s possible that they won’t and that’s okay too. We are going to do everything we can to get you back there.
What to expect while rehabing
It’s important to talk about what they should expect in the rehab process, the fewer things that are a surprise the better. Talk about the ability for it to be uncomfortable. Rehab is hard work and it can occasionally be painful. All of that should be talked about and expected.
Another thing to discuss with your athlete, as well as your doctor, is what workouts can be done safely while healing and rehabbing. With athletes, a lot of everything they do has to do with confidence. So being able to still work their muscles, be productive, and still contribute to their goals. That allows their confidence to grow and be strong even while healing.
Reentering after an injury
At this stage in an injury, it is so important to talk about the signs of an injury reappearing or getting worse. Especially as the athlete begins to get back into practice and competition. Athletes get into this tug-of-war between wanting to compete again and reach goals, while also knowing that they have to take care of their bodies. They need to know that if they feel a certain thing at the location of injury they need to slow down and stop and ask for help. And at the same time, there are “growing pains” for lack of better terms. They need to know that if they feel those, they can and should keep going and moving forward. All of that is important information. Either way, the knowledge gives off of confidence of “the doctor told me” so that they feel like they are safe and have control over the situation.
You can’t control injury
You cannot control the past. you can’t control that the injury happened. But you can control a lot of other things. How you are feeding your body, rest recovery, physical therapy, attitude. Those are the things you have to focus your energy on, you can’t focus on what is healing. You can contribute to it, but you can’t control it. We can’t control the past or even the future really. What we can do is step into the moment and decide that we can only control what we can, and start moving forward to life after the injury. Start with setting clear and realistic recovery-based goals.
Prior to the injury, you may have had a goal of winning the state meet, qualifying to regionals, winning, nationals, whatever your goal was. You now are going to have to readjust those goals and that is okay. My goal now is to get to a place of healing. And what can they do within their control to get to that goal? They can control their nutrients, their conditioning, and even practice imagery.
I strongly recommend practicing imagery for all athletes, especially those recovering from an injury. For those who are members of Perform Happy, we have an entire imagery section with guided visualizations you can listen to. But we have one specifically for healing imagery. This one specifically focuses on relaxing the body, which allows circulation to improve. It also focuses on having a better attitude and increasing motivation which is actually proven to help your body heal faster.
Optimism, optimism, optimism! That is what we have to be relaying to these athletes because that is what they need. They have to know and truly believe that they will get to the other side of this injury! Optimism is like the sprinkles on top, just the little extra that goes a long way. There will be a rollercoaster of emotion. Honor those emotions because that means they are being processed. If those feelings aren’t processed they can end up holding the athlete back. If they are terrified of getting reinjured their body gets tense regularly, and all those feelings of anxiety can flood in. Optimism helps you to allow those feelings to come and go and be able to recover and still be positive.
Parents of an injured athlete
What can you as a parent do to help them through all of those emotions and help them get on a path to healing and positivity? To start, all of that information that your athlete will be looking for, helps them get it. Don’t try to downplay it. Let them have all of the information so that they can know what they can and cannot control.
Then you focus on the controllable. You cannot control how your athlete is reacting to their big emotions, how they’re recovering. You also cannot control the past or future. What can you control? Your attitude, the way you talk to your athlete, the way you help them, and then you can also help to redirect your athlete to focus on their controllable as well. When they get hung up on something, help them to decide if they can control it and if they can’t help them to let it go.
A way to help them let it go is to write it down and throw it away. Literally. If you run into something you can’t control and it is driving you nuts, write it down on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it away!
Other outlets during an injury
Another great resource is the Injured Athlete’s Toolbox. It is all about helping your athlete find other hobbies and outlets while out with an injury.
We want our athletes to still feel like they have a life when out on injury. Their sport cannot be the only reason for existence. Having other outlets will make it so much easier for the BOTH of you to stay positive and have something to do in a moment of frustration. An outlet will allow you to stay out of self-pity land.
Practicing gratitude and staying positive
Practicing gratitude can help too. In a moment of pity or emotion list 5 quick things that are good and going right in your life. It can be as simple as you liking the shirt you are wearing or as complex as you are thankful to have a roof over your head. Sometimes just turning on some good music and letting it all out helps more than you would think.
Dealing with deadlines
One of our favorite games to play with our Perform Happy members is, unfortunately, fortunately. You come up with an unfortunate, ” I sprang my ankle at the last meet” then you come up with a fortunate ” It will be healed before the next meet” If you can play that game you naturally begin being more optimistic! Take a crummy situation and start seeing the opportunity to see the good. They can still support and cheer on their team, they can still work on conditioning.
Need help getting your athlete through an injury
At Perform Happy we have tons of resources to help both parents and athletes get through an injury even during competition season. We have a variety of coaches that specialize in injury recovery from the mental toughness standpoint. If you think they might be able to help you set up a free consultation today! As for the parents, we have an entire parent course to help with parenting an athlete that might deal with fear and anxiety.