Overcoming injury: More than a physical battle
For most athletes, the question of injury is not an if, but a when. If you engage in athletics for a prolonged period of time, it is almost a guarantee that you will face injury at some point; in fact, statistics reveal that 90 percent of student-athletes report some sort of current or past sports-related injury.
When I was younger playing contact sports such as basketball and soccer, I dealt with the usual bumps, bruises, and scrapes often associated with the sports’ physical and contract-driven nature. When I shifted over to volleyball, I faced my fair share of sprains and strains and although the sport is not one filled with contact by nature, the floor certainly gave my knees, hips, and elbows a run for their money. Although I faced many of these injuries throughout my juniors and high school career, they were never too hard to overcome. The recovery usually entailed a couple of days off, at most a week or two. Then, during my junior year of high school, tragedy struck: I landed wrong from a hit in an indoor volleyball game, and heard the infamous loud pop of an ACL tear.
Although the physical pain was excruciating, it was only the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the long and grueling recovery process, I struggled with many things, mainly surrounding my sense of identity. Where volleyball had once been, there was a gaping void that threatened to pull me into its darkness if I let it. I no longer had practices to take my mind off of school and social life, or give me the extra boost of endorphins my body had come to crave.
Although the recovery process was one of the darkest times in my life, I learned many lessons that have made me a stronger athlete and individual that I wanted to share with you in case you ever find yourself in a similar position:
1. You are stronger than you can imagine:
Dealing with injuries is an exhausting process. There will be times when you doubt yourself and ask, “am I strong enough to come back as strong as before?” one phrase injured athletes will often hear in response is “you will come back even stronger.” This is more than just a motivating adage: it is a reference to the fact that recovery can be transformational. Our minds and bodies are capable of so much more than we can imagine, and overcoming injury gives us a unique insight into just how strong we are. Once we overcome injury, we know that we are strong enough to do anything.
2. There is more to life than just sports:
If you are someone who’s day or week can be ruined by one poor in-game or practice performance, it is important to learn that there is more to life than just sports.There is no need to equate your self worth to your athletic performance. It puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on performance that is not conducive to overall enjoyment or success. Now, this is not to say that sports cannot be an important aspect of your life, but attaining some form of balance is imperative. Take the time off to find a new hobby, reconnect with an old friend, or spend time tending to the things and relationships that are important to you.
3. Study the game:
If you find yourself injured to the point where you are barred from practices and competition, use the extra time gained from these schedule gaps to study the game. Some ideas include watching film of yourself and learning the tendencies of yourself and your opponents, studying players at the highest level execute skills with exemplary technique (yes, I did pour over hours of Kerri Walsh Jennings’ blocking highlights), or looking at the wide variety of strategic and technique based information available on the internet. Seeing the game from a different perspective can be extremely beneficial, and taking the time to understand the game and improve volleyball IQ will pay huge dividends upon your return to gameplay!
4. Find your WHY:
If someone asks you why you play sports, what would your answer be? Although I learned many things, the most transformational part of my recovery from injury was finally finding my why. Everybody’s reason for playing is different. The choice to play could be motivated by the desire for physical activity, or maybe geographical proximity to a practice facility, or maybe an inspirational mentor or coach. For me, the absence of volleyball made me appreciate it one hundred percent more. I realized that I played beach volleyball because my life was simply not as amazing without it -- because I love it. Every day away from the sand made me miss playing with my friends and teammates a little more, and every day that I spent in recovery motivated by the excitement that surrounded my eventual return. Injury itself is not ideal, but it allowed me to cherish every aspect of the sport. I gained a greater appreciation of the people, the game, the excitement of each point, the feeling of the sand between my toes, and everything that makes beach volleyball so unique.
Remember that adversity and obstacles are an important part of every great athlete’s career. Although getting injured was grueling, it allowed me to foster a deeper appreciation for not just sports, but everything life has to offer as well. Injuries that result in taking time off can be a blessing in disguise if handled with self-compassion, strength, and intention.