November 5, 2015

BROFSKY | The Impact of Injuries on Athletes Beyond the Field

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Devastation. The word is tossed around a lot in the world of sports. That devastating loss, performance, career. Things go badly and take a turn for the worse all of the time. Athletes can’t always perform at the level they are capable of, can’t stretch themselves in every direction constantly. Otherwise, they’d break. And sometimes they do, regardless.

Injuries are intertwined with every sport. Sports can put massive amounts of stress on the body and ultimately we often cannot predict how it will impact every individual or prevent all problems. Even if it seems like an athlete can play through the pain, the consequences may be too severe and it just might not be possible. It can sometimes be easier to handle the physical pain than face the mental side of it. The pain of sitting out, of watching from afar can dominate all other sensations. Athletes cannot easily separate themselves from their games. Sports play an integral part of their identities, are the foundation for their self-esteem, and are a way to release and cope with stress.

Dr. Matthew Krouner, a psychologist, said that sport becomes an athlete’s “all-encompassing identity — it’s how you relate to other people, it’s how you use your body, it’s your mental stimulation.” When you remove this chunk of activity from the equation, they are left with emptiness, question marks, a void that seems impossible to fill adequately with anything else.
Athletes require impeccable strength to accomplish their daily feats. Injuries stop the flow of the same caliber of exercise, and thus, their strength diminishes. For many injured athletes, their world is turned upside down and everything they thought they were is no more. Oh, and the agony of watching other players do what they know they can … Sorry, I like the drama of sports.

So, to diminish the negative aspects of injury, you have to be aware of what to expect, what you haven’t lost, and what there is to gain. Injured athletes can expect hardship, uphill battles and difficulty. It’s a new hurdle, something that can typically be solved with rest and time and work. Focusing on the recovery process can be a good distraction and another way of setting new goals in order to get back to the game.

Injuries can end careers, too. Justine Siegal, a doctoral candidate in sports psychology, said it is “very disconcerting to be so goal-oriented your whole life and then just have to walk away and move on to a new goal. When you haven’t planned out what that goal is, you can feel lost.” In this way, losing something like your sport can be an opportunity to find yourself and claim your identity separate from what it is you spend your time doing.

Troy Polamalu said, “Injury in general teaches you to appreciate every moment. I’ve had my share of injuries throughout my career. It’s humbling. It gives you perspective. No matter how many times I’ve been hurt, I’ve learned from that injury and come back even more humble.” It is important not to take advantage of our health and capabilities. We could lose them at any time, so it’s best to appreciate them while we can. It’s true that sometimes we don’t know what we have until it’s gone, but don’t let this happen. Our bodies do amazing things every day and we typically don’t even acknowledge this. Injuries can be viewed as a mandatory pause that make us look around and see all of the incredible things we are blind to when we are all well and good.

Lastly, Hellen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” I think she is right. Be patient with injuries. It may not seem like it, but you are benefiting in some respects. You are learning to grow stronger in the face of disappointment and limitations and devastation. You are growing as an athlete and as a person.