Athletes can be their own worst enemies sometimes. And it is not their fault. If you have watched enough sports, you will hear how tough you have to be when you are injured. So-and-so played with a broken leg, so why can’t you.
Or while playing in little league, you might have heard a coach tell an athlete that a kid’s injury was fine and to walk it off. There also might have been times where you or maybe someone on your team was rolling around on the ground and a coach would say, you’re not hurt. Get up and play.
The point is, most athletes get conditioned to try and play through an injury. And I am all for that, if it is the right type of injury. Meaning, if the injury does not affect your performance much and will not be made worse by you playing on it, then yes, try to play through the pain.
But, if you are clearly hampered by an injury, then the smart thing is to stop all activity and start rehabbing the injury.
And that can be tough for an athlete to take.
There are clearly injuries you can’t play through (at least my high school athletes and younger). A broken bone or a torn ligament usually means the athlete has to heal and repair.
There are other injuries that could be played through depending on the severity of the injury. A muscle strain or pull. A twisted ankle. Even shin splints. These are injuries that the athlete will have to assess whether they can push through it or if it is too painful to play.
Not only does the athlete have to make a decision, the coach also has to make a decision. The coach needs to be the coach if the athlete clearly cannot make the decision for him/herself. Acknowledge to the athlete that you appreciate the willingness to want to continue on, but let them know it is in their best interest to modify the practice or do what is needed to be done to repair the injury.
As a coach, I feel that it doesn’t take long for you to determine what type of athlete you have. Do you have an athlete that will take every opportunity to sit out practice the moment they feel any ache or pain? Or do you have an athlete embarrassed they can’t practice because of the injury?
You also might have an athlete recovering from a sickness. Modifications need to be made because that athlete will want to return right back to the level they left at. Typically, they will not be able to do that and so you will have to modify practice for them.
Here is how you can modify their practice if you have an injured or sick athlete:
- Assess what drills they can do that will not aggravate their injury at all and allow them to participate.
- If running is part of their practice, they must run at a speed that is just below the speed that starts aggravating the injury. Tell them to not be embarrassed and not feel like they are a wimp. Unfortunately, this is what they need to do to get back to 100%.
- They might need to take longer rest periods and practice at shorter durations than their teammates until their stamina has returned.
- Make sure they are doing their rehab with the athletic trainer and/or doctor before they attend practice. This is the most important thing.
- When they are ready to practice, give them a gradual intensity over the course of time. That will build their confidence back and help prevent any setbacks by going too intense too soon.
The athletes might not like this protocol. They want to get right back into it and go for it. Some of these seasons are really short and they might miss some time. They have to look at it as reality and if they get healthy, they will still have a good chunk of the season to enjoy.
If they rush it back and do way more damage to the injury, they could be looking at missing an entire season rather than just a few games.