The Athlete’s Guide to Bouncing Back from An Injury
In one moment everything changed.
I jumped in the air with two perfectly healthy knees, but I landed with one torn ACL. I went from the top of my game to the lowest point of my High School basketball career in the blink of an eye.
Who could have guessed that I would miss out on my last year of basketball as a senior? That certainly wasn’t in my plans.
I know all-too-well the devastation of becoming injured as an athlete. On the other hand, I know exactly what it takes to bounce back from an injury as a faster, stronger, and more resilient player.
Nobody expected me to return to the game in only 4 months and earn a full basketball scholarship.
But that’s exactly what I did.
Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game. The good news is that they don’t have to be career-ending.
I’m going to show you exactly what I did to return to basketball playing better than I’ve ever played.
Make A Decision- How bad do you want to play your sport again? Do you even want to play anymore? These are the questions you need to ask yourself, and be honest. Maybe you see this as your opportunity to finally try other things - that’s perfectly fine. But if you realize that this is not the end, then you must understand one thing: you will have to commit to do whatever it takes. You cannot commit to anything without a made up mind.
Lean On Your Support System- I’ll be 100% honest with you. Recovering from your injury will be hard. You will get discouraged. You will feel like giving up. You may even experience waves of depression as you see your team play without you. In order to overcome those negative feelings, you have to have a strong support system. Thankfully I had family, friends, coaches, and teammates who rallied around me in my darkest moments. If you don’t have a support system, I suggest you find one. Even if it is just one or two people who you know will uplift your spirits - trust me, you will need it. You have a giant task at hand. Don’t try to tackle it alone!
Break Your Big Goal Into Small Goals- I had a huge goal: return to the basketball court completely healed. Whenever I thought about my big goal, I often got discouraged. I couldn’t even walk, let alone run up and down a court! So I set small, realistic objectives that I could achieve little by little. If you are trying to reach your goal all at once - you are doing it all wrong! Take your eyes off the big picture and tackle the day. What can you do now that will get you just a tad bit closer to full recovery? Focus on the baby steps throughout the journey. I guarantee you will look up in a week or two and see great gains.
Be consistent - Sure, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But you will never reach your destination if you only take steps when you feel like it. Buy in to the process every single day. Rain or shine. This is the hardest step for most people because emotions get in the way. You may wake up one morning and realize you feel blah. Don’t use that as an excuse to skip your workout. Do it anyway. There’s a reason this is step 4 in the guide. Without a made up mind or a strong support system, your motivation will fizzle out before you reach your goal. Remember, recovering from an injury is not a sprint, it's a marathon.
Create Incentives- I remember my doctor told me that if I returned to our next appointment with the ability to bend my knee all the way, he would give me $20. I worked as hard as I could those next two weeks to make sure my knee had the proper range of motion. During my next appointment, my doctor commended me and handed me the 20 dollar bill. Was it hard? Absolutely. Looking back, I realize he had the right idea. Athletes usually respond to a challenge. If you hang a carrot in front of an athlete’s face, get ready to see a spectacular performance. You’re no different. You may not have someone that will give you money for reaching your goals, but you can do it yourself. Tell yourself you can’t watch TV or hang out with your friends unless you reach a specific milestone. Not only will you see improvement, but you’ll feel a renewed sense of accomplishment that you earned.
Work On The Skills You Can- As soon as I was able to walk, one of my coaches took notice. During practice he would work with me on my shooting form. I shot without jumping, using only my upper body strength. Once I got comfortable shooting up close without jumping, he had me move back. I gradually moved back until I was comfortably making shots without jumping from behind the 3 point line. Needless to say I didn’t have that ability pre-injury. While my team practiced, I could have sat down on the sideline sulking about my situation. When you make a decision to do whatever it takes, that is not an option. By the time I achieved full recovery, I improved my shooting by leaps and bounds.Think about which skills you can master while you are sitting on the sideline.
Enduring the recovery process to return back to your sport is a challenge. I struggled every single day, but the struggle made me stronger.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because it shaped me into the person I am today.
During the journey I found a brand new joy in the game of basketball. I felt gratitude from the things I once overlooked such as the ability to run and jump.
Perhaps you feel down on your luck because you experienced an injury. Take it from me, this is not the end of your journey!
Return to this guide as many times as you need to and follow the steps to returning to your sport better than you left.
You can do it. I believe in you!