Confronting an injury is tough in any setting but is even more painful when you have to attend practice or games. The way you experience your sport, team and self has changed. Here are a few things I’ve learned after coming back from surgery to manage stress, time, and expectations while you sit out and heal.
- Discuss expectations up front with your coach or trainer
Before you are sitting at practice wondering if you should be helping or keeping busy, ask! It can only help to ask what your coaching staff expects of you and communicate what you need while you heal or recover. I made sure to let my coaches know that I needed some time before helping with drills or film. Though I knew it would be helpful of me to step in right off the bat, I didn’t want to develop a negative association with being at practice. By letting them know how I felt, I was able to focus on what I needed to do for myself rather than being self conscious about whether or not I was doing the “right thing.”
- Stay busy — or don’t
It all depends on your personality and how you cope with difficult situations. While I like my own space and quiet time, I’ve had teammates who like to stay as busy as possible to pass the time. Try to create the environment that makes you feel the best as consistently as possible. Keep in mind this may change over time and you’ll learn so much about yourself in the process!
- Keep your routine
You probably already feel unintentionally left out from the rest of your team for many reasons. One way to stay connected is by keeping your pre-practice routine the same (minus the warm-up of course). Have a daily pump-up playlist? Listen while you get out to the sideline or while changing. Speaking of changing, your team may require you to still dress out while not practicing. While this may seem unnecessary at first, think of it as a way to maintain team identity, professionalism, and realize that your presence is still noticed.
- Make the most of your time
Unless recovering from a concussion or full-body injury, you probably have some sort of rehab exercises to do. Even doing little things like hand strengthening or leg raises are possible on the sideline without distracting others too much. Even if you’re not doing much, it feels good to be productive when you’d otherwise be sitting doing nothing.
- Be a good teammate
Looking back, being positive was the last thing I wanted to be while injured. I realize now I acted pretty selfishly and I could’ve been better at cheering on my teammates and respecting them for their hard work and filling my position. Positive energy from the sideline is really impactful and no one wants to help a teammate who doesn’t seem to want to be there or be part of the team’s progress.
- Get creative in your participation
My team needs drivers everyday to get to practice, so when I couldn’t play I made this a big focus. I could contribute by picking up teammates and making sure they got to practice on time. You could offer to take photos for social media or a website, fill waters, or even hold something on the sideline for a teammate. It may not sound the most thrilling, but it feels really good to have a job to do.
- Do what you want.
Most importantly, you need to take time to figure out how you want to deal with this awkward and painful period of time. I personally needed a few days before returning just to be angry and figure out a plan. Once I went to practice, I knew my team wasn’t expecting much from me at first which allowed me to do exercises or catch up on reading discreetly. In the long term, I knew this was best for my team because it made me want to stay committed to my sport. Too many athletes quit after recovering from an injury because their relationship to it has changed, so be mindful during this process and always reach out for help.