Anyone who has invested time, energy, and resources into an athletic career knows that risk of injury is a part of the game. Though trainers, coaches, and sports doctors undoubtedly do their best to minimize this risk, it is never completely eliminated. Soccer player David Beckham's recent injury to his Achilles' tendon put his future with the World Cup at stake, Lindsey Von nearly lost her chance to compete in the 2010 Olympics, and Da'sean Butler had to end his college career with a knee injury that happened in the fourth quarter of the NCAA semifinals.
So how does an athlete respond well to injuries that could potentially end their career, and shatter their dreams? In the immediate moment, many athletes feel anger, guilt, and denial. While West Virginia's Coach was trying to comfort Butler after his injury, Butler was apologizing. He wanted to be there for his team, especially at this crucial moment at the very end of his college career. Having gone through a trampoline accident myself, I know that it's a scary place to be, but if some important steps are taken, many athletes are able to overcome their injuries and recover from their setbacks.
Education – An athlete needs to be well educated with honest and accurate facts about his or her injury, the healing process, and what effect it will have on his or her career. Education is power, and knowing the truth will help the athlete and coach to set realistic and attainable goals. If it's going to be a long road, the athlete needs to know that, so he or she can prepare mentally and physically. Through a custom training plan, an athlete can stay in shape and reach goals more easily.
Awareness of Psychological Effects – A serious injury can be devastating not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. When one's future changes in a moment, feelings of sadness or depression can set in. An athlete may feel like they let their team or coach down, or may be afraid of getting injured again. Being aware of the possibility that these feeling might be present, and being prepared to respond with any necessary stress management training can make all the difference.
Support and Encouragement – An athlete who has been injured needs support more than ever. One of the best ways to get this support is to stay with the coach and team. Who could understand the feelings of loss better than your own teammates? The team most likely wants to help get an athlete back in shape to compete, so making sure that one doesn't get separated from the team is extremely important. This can be an encouragement for the athlete to continue his or her athletic lifestyle, and ultimately make the transition back into the sports scene that much easier.
Though serious sports injuries are truly devastating, they can be overcome, and can make an athlete stronger physically, and mentally. As the saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." If the athlete and his or her supporting staff are willing to make an effort to come back and win, they can, and they will.