No one likes to see a youth athlete get hurt. And sometimes all the best intentions and injury prevention tactics in the world can’t stop sheer dumb luck. Accidents are bound to happen from time to time in youth sports that result in minor injuries like jammed fingers, sprained ankles, and bloody noses—but what happens when a youth athlete suffers a more serious injury like a torn ACL, a concussion or even a fractured bone? Major injuries can require months of recovery and plenty of time spent doing rehabilitation exercises, but even after they are given the green light to get back on the field some youth athletes have lost faith in themselves and their athletic abilities and have a hard time getting back in their old groove. After a sports injury you also have to give athletes the time and help to mentally recover.
Craig Sigl over at Mentaltoughnesstrainer.com put out this great video player about a volleyball player he has worked with and how she struggled to mentally overcome her sports injury:
At one point Craig mentions “She had put a lot of stock in her identity as a top-notch volleyball player and having it literally disappear overnight was shocking. She was frustrated she could not play and worried if she would even be able to “comeback” at all.” Many youth athletes center their identities around the fact that they are athletes—it’s what they do, it’s what they love, it’s who they are. At a young age, belonging to a high powered travel baseball or soccer team might be the most impressive thing you’ve done in your life, so it makes sense that a youth athlete takes a lot of pride in their skills. But what happens when that identity is thrown into question by a serious injury that keeps them off the court/field for weeks, or even the rest of the season?
Most youth athletes can’t wait to get the thumbs up from their doctor and get back on the field, but the longer they have the watch from the stands or sidelines the harder it might be to get back into the game. What if they aren’t as good as they used to be? What if they’ve lost their edge? What if their team learned how to function without them? Even after they get back into the game they might still be plagued by these doubts or be extra-worried about getting hurt again, to the point where it affects their self-confidence. For instance, will a soccer player go after the ball as hard as they used to if they are worrying about hurting their ankle again?
While most athletes recognize that their fears and concerns are irrational, that doesn’t mean they can just “get over it” the minute they are allowed back into uniform. As Craig pointed out in his video, “hundreds of doubting thoughts over a period of time starts to condition your mind so you have to reverse that before doing anything else.” These players have psyched themselves out of the game! In order to help them get back to who they were as an athlete before their injury, coaches and parents need to recognize these doubts and concerns and actually address them.