After my first post on recovering from injury and getting back to playing, I got quite a few questions about strategies for dealing with an initial injury and getting through the recovery process itself. That’s what this post is all about. If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be:
Recovery is a dynamic process – be aware of changing conditions, adapt, be patient, and persist.
Here are my tips for getting through the process of recovering from an injury. As always, ask questions and share any other strategies that have worked for you!
Maintain Realistic Expectations: Plan for the roller coaster
What I’m about to say in this section isn’t meant to be harsh or get you down. It’s meant to prepare you if you’re just starting the recovery process. It’s meant to normalize your experience if you’re already deep into the process. It’s meant to help you say: I can get through this.
Experiencing and recovering from injury is a challenge. It can test your body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
It can be a mental and emotional roller coaster: You’ll likely have days where you’re upbeat and feel good followed by days of the exact opposite. Grief, anger, sadness, detachment, no motivation, irritability, lost confidence…these are all normal.
A provider (Dr., PT, ATC, etc.) may say, “You’ll be able to return to play in X months.” Then X months may come and go and you’re nowhere near being able to play. A friend may say, “I had that same thing happen and it took me forever to heal” or “I had that same thing happen and I was back a week later.”
Knowing that these ups and downs are coming can help us to manage them when they arrive and can help us understand they will come and go.
Keep a journal of progress & setbacks
I highly recommend keeping a detailed journal of your progress. Often athletes make small improvements that go unnoticed. And a common response to not feeling like we are making any progress is to push too hard.
The journal also helps you more objectively see the 'two steps forward, one step back' type of progress. Instinctively, we more easily notice and remember the 'one step back.' Reviewing journal entries can help you see how far you’ve come.
If you have a provider (ATC, PT, Dr., etc.) you’re working with, ask for their thoughts and feedback to add to your journal as well. They are experts and may be seeing progress that is hard to feel and offer a different perspective.
Track your progress & the strategies that helped. Track your setbacks & the lessons you learned.
Re-frame your thoughts
Are your thoughts about your injury and recovery helping or harming you?
If you find that your thoughts are not effective for your recovery, you’ll likely need to do some work to re-frame them. This takes practice and some effort initially, but as you begin to retrain your brain it will become more second-nature.
One strategy is to identify and recognize the reality of the situation (don’t ignore it, that’s actually not helpful) and then also identify where you have control and what you can do to help your body heal.
In the early stages of an injury, your thoughts may sound like: “I hate not being active, I can’t stand to sit around” or “If I don’t play I’m going to lose my spot on the starting lines.”
Re-framing these thoughts might sound like: “Not being active is hard for me, but I trust that rest is what my body needs to heal fastest” or “The only way for me to maintain my starting spot is to heal as efficiently as I can.”
Stay tuned-in to your thoughts throughout the recovery process. The thoughts that get in your way immediately after an injury may be different than the thoughts that get in your way a week, a month, or many months into the process.
Keeping track of your initial/unhelpful thoughts and the re-framed thoughts is another great way to see progress. It can also help you transition between stages. For example, early on you may need to be more protective and then transition into a stage where you need to push a bit more – different thoughts can be helpful in these different stages.
How you think matters to your recovery – choose to be your own ally instead of your own enemy.
Culture of respecting the recovery process.
Finally, but certainly not last: Coaches, leadership, and teammates have to be on-board with creating a culture where the recovery process is valued. More importantly, this should be explicitly stated as something that is valued. Otherwise, athletes inevitably 'mind read' pressure from their coaches/leadership/teammates to return to play sooner than they are ready.
Most athletes put enough pressure on themselves that they actually need the encouragement of others to hold-back. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Be aware of how your beliefs or preconceived notions may be influencing your perception of an injured athlete. Some people may push a top-tier athlete to return to play because they are needed, and some people may protect a top-tier athlete more than others. Some people may judge a lower-tier player’s injury to not be as serious and unintentionally pressure them to return to play. Tune-in to your thoughts and reactions to your athletes/teammates injuries and how you may be influencing their recovery.
The more people we have on our side through this process the better.
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK: REFLECT & ADAPT
Where are your expectations set? Are they helping your recovery or making it harder?
Are you aware of your progress no matter how small? Would tracking your progress in a journal help you see your progress more objectively?
Is your thinking helping or harming your recovery? Could you be thinking more effectively?
Are you supporting your athletes and teammates in their recovery as well as you could be?
Building resilience and mental toughness: TIPS FOR COACHES AND PARENTS OF YOUTH & HIGH-SCHOOL ATHLETES
The fall season is coming to a close, and many of our young Ultimate players will be competing in championship events like high school state tournaments or YCC Regional Championships.
As coaches and parents of youth and high-school athletes, you have the opportunity to develop their mental toughness and resilience. While this may as well be considered a full time responsibility of coaches and parents, your impact will be particularly strong during these ‘big’ championship-type events.
Some of your influence is explicit – e.g. how you talk to your athletes about winning and losing. And some of your influence is implicit – e.g. your body language (subtle and grand) when your team scores/wins or gets scored on/loses, etc. The 4 tips below will help you make sure your explicit and implicit influence is developing mentally tough and resilient athletes.
1. Focus on the process and the experience:
Let me be clear, I am not saying winning and losing don’t mean anything. I’m saying winning and losing aren’t everything. The thing is, focusing on the outcome often moves us farther away from our desired outcome. Focusing on the process keeps us motivated, learning, growing, and enables us to move closer to our desired outcomes. While most of us likely understand this, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. Use these strategies and examples to stay focused on the process and experience:
*Parents: These are often the conversations you have after the game or in the car ride home. To keep your kids interested, motivated, and enjoying their sport consider moving your conversations toward the process.
2. Don’t sugar coat performance – have the tough conversation:
Often as coaches and parents, we have a gut reaction to protect our kids and athletes. Making a mistake, getting scored on, or losing a game can be embarrassing, frustrating, or devastating. So when it happens, we try to make them feel better. We say things like, “it’s okay” or “you’ll get ‘em next time.” While both of those things are true, they are not complete. Mistakes/losing/failure “is okay” because it is part of the learning process, but we as coaches and parents need to help that learning occur. That, after all, is what will help them “get ‘em next time.” The thing is, ignoring or sugar coating mistakes, poor performance, and losses prevents learning, growth and development of toughness. Calling-out/acknowledging, normalizing, and processing mistakes and failure fosters growth and resilience. Being sure to separate the behavior/incident/outcome from their value as a human being (“yes you failed, but that does not make you a failure.”)
*Parents & Coaches: It will take some practice. It may not be easy, but it is critical to helping them develop the mental toughness and resilience you want them to have in and out of sport. And, wouldn’t you rather they learn these lessons from you, their loving and caring parent or coach, than someone else?
3. Provide “effective” praise (not just praise/compliments):
Sometimes we inadvertently, unintentionally, or implicitly send the message that the only thing we can learn and grow from are our failures (see above). But that is absolutely not the case - we can learn a lot from our own success and the success of others! Indeed, this can be a great way to develop young athletes as it allows you to ‘coach’ them without criticizing/critiquing their performance. The thing here is simply remembering to label the effort, strategy, or skill they used to produce the success in addition to praising.
*Something critical to keep in mind is that your athletes/kids may not know what they did that enabled their success. By labeling it for them, you’re teaching them how to be successful again. While this might take a smidge more work up front, it actually enables them to repeat their own successes and requires less coaching and correcting later on. Remember: name the effort, strategy, or skill that allowed them to be successful in the first place.
4. Model mental toughness and resilience:
I saved this for last because I want to make sure it sticks with you. At the end of the day our actions speak louder than our words. As a parent or coach you could say all the right things, but if you aren’t living those things yourself – that’s what your kids and athletes will notice and remember most. I encourage both parents and coaches to deliberately think about the values, habits, and qualities you wish to instill in your kids/athletes. Write them down and make note of what they mean to you and what it looks like to demonstrate those values daily.
*Other questions to consider: How do I want my kids/athletes to act when we win? How do I want them to act when we lose? How do I currently act when we win/lose? What words do I choose and what message does my body language send?
Hi! I'm Piers. I am an Ultimate player, spouse, parent, and human performance coach. My passion and my profession is to help individuals and teams perform at their best through research-based mental skills, resilience, leadership and team dynamics training.
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