Approximately 8,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each day for sports-related injuries. Obviously some of these are relatively minor–things like sprained ankles and jammed fingers are definitely no fun and can be painful, but they aren’t typically season-ending or life-threatening. The recovery process might be a few days or a few weeks and youth athletes are back on their feet like nothing ever happened. But other injuries, like a torn ACL, can take months to physically recoup from. But even as they physically recover from a serious injury an athlete’s mental health also needs attention.
Here are three things parents can do to help their youth athlete recover mentally, and not just physically, from a serious injury.
Set Realistic Goals
A huge part of recovery physically and mentally from a serious injury means staying positive. Most young athletes aren’t used to their bodies not doing what they want and the road to full recovery can be slow and painful and incredibly frustrating. Things that used to come easy are now hard, and that can be very discouraging for anyone, but especially for athletes that are used to their bodies performing in a certain way. Help your athlete stay positive by setting small, realistic goals they can achieve on the way to recovery. For instance, after tearing an ACL a runner isn’t going to be setting any new PRs their first time around the track. They probably won’t even be running at their usual speed. Instead, focus on how they improve each time. If all they can focus on is how fast they used to be it’s much easier to lose hope. Even a few seconds off a lap adds up over time. As they regain their strength their speed will come back, but it’s going to be hard work to get back what used to come easy.
Create a Support Network
Support networks are so important for recovering athletes. Connecting with other athletes who have suffered from similar injuries and bounced back and give your youth athlete hope for the future and someone to talk to who can easily commiserate. Knowing they are not alone and that they can get back to peak performance level can really boost their confidence and keep them focused on the big picture. Doctors, physical therapists, coaches, teammates, and of course parents all have a role to play during the recovery process. For instance, an injured baseball player might not be able to pitch, but they can still come to every game in uniform and keep the book. This keeps them connected to their team so they don’t feel so isolated after their injury, which is rough for anyone to work through.
Help Rebuild Trust in The Injured Body Part
Even after that broken born or torn muscle is totally healed, many youth athletes don’t trust that body part to not give out again. They might be afraid to push too hard, worried about reinjuring themselves. Fear can make athletes more tense, which causes them to be less flexible, less coordinated, and even fatigue more quickly. If your athlete is worried about hurting themselves, focus on all the rehab success stories that surround us. Many athletes will succeed through a rehab program and come back feeling “better than ever.” Derrick Rose told the Los Angeles Times that he’s increased his vertical leap by five inches after his knee reconstruction. In his first game back after 17 months, made a quick, hard and unanticipated cut off his knee to go around the defender. “Given no chance to think, Rose’s body didn’t betray him.” Even though earlier in the game Rose had been “playing it safe” when the time came to just react his knee held strong.