The VICTORIOUS HOCKEY COMPANY’s Weekly Newsletter: HELPING YOUNG ATHLETES DEAL WITH INJURY SETBACKS
Full transparency- I am writing this week’s newsletter on Thursday because my ability to compose anything of value next week will be all but impossible. I am having a shoulder reconstruction procedure and to be perfectly honest, I do not believe I have ever been as excited for anything in my life!
For years/decades now, I have endured extreme pain in my right shoulder as a direct result of the damage created from days of playing hockey. In general, it is not all that uncommon for athletes (present and yesteryear) of full contact sports like hockey, football and lacrosse to suffer from such issues.
I have ligament damage, cartilage deterioration and rotator tears from bulldozing my way through defenseman throughout my hockey career. My other shoulder is not that great either but at least it is functional. I likely have more issues too, as my spine has exhibited multiple recurring issues since I left the game, as well.
I have to suspect, now that I am older (but wiser?) that if I had to redo it all, I think I would have taken better care to address the issues and injuries I had- when I had them. Rather than putting it off (and likely worsening the issues) by waiting until my mid-life to get them properly repaired.
Right now, we are all about to begin the summer and the hockey world shifts gears to camps, clinics and tryouts. Undoubtedly, there are several of you (or your children) that are recuperating from an injury acquired during your respective season. Given my current status I felt it was particularly relevant to focus this week’s newsletter on injuries and how to recuperate properly in order to return to the game, in the fall, strong and ready to go.
HELPING YOUNG ATHLETES DEAL WITH INJURY SETBACKS
Sportstarinprogress.com, September 2, 2018
To help young athletes cope with injury setbacks, make sure they’re not too eager to get back training. Rest is essential. Understand the injury, the warning signs and potential repercussions. Taking away the unknown reduces the stress of being injured. Look at physio options and try to stay sharp in long term injuries. Keep in touch with teammates and coaches.
Picking up an injury for a potential sports star can be devastating and demoralizing. It’s more than just missing a few matches/events and practices. An injury has the potential to bring down the strongest, most positive and optimistic of young athletes. It’s important to be informed of long term effects and repercussions of the injury, but also be aware of some of the coping strategies to help someone mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Injuries come in many forms. A minor knock can have impacts on performance. It can just niggle in the back of your mind during training, a game or event. Meaning you can’t focus 100% on what matters. It can be the reason you pull out of a tackle, don’t push that little extra in a race, miss that killer pass, can’t stretch to hit the homerun or return a serve.
There is a big difference between an injury and some pain from lack of activity, bruising or an impact ache. It’s unlikely a young child will know which one it is and will need you as a parent or coach to guide them.
Minor bumps and bruises are to be expected in most contact sports. Similarly, general muscle fatigue after a tough session or returning after a rest period is normal. Older children will become more aware of regular soreness and be able to play through the pain. With a younger child, watch out for warning signs, for example, changes in their technique, some swelling and lack of interest in training.
Rest is key to injury prevention
For younger athletes, I always recommend a rest above playing through the pain until they understand the difference between soreness and an injury. Missing a practice session to recover won’t result in a major decline and sometimes improves performances. Whereas playing through a serious injury can result in further damage and a lengthy time on the sidelines. Making sure your child takes breaks from training is one of the most important tips in my 15 Parenting tips to help athletically gifted children.
Understanding the injury, the warning signs and potential repercussions of an injury
Once you know what injury was suffered, I would recommend doing some research for yourself. Ask the doctor, the coach, the physiotherapist and even search online for answers. Gaining answers to the following questions has always helped me get athletes through a range of injury setbacks and can do the same for you and your child:
How long does it usually take to heal?
What exercises will help recovery?
How to avoid repetitive injuries?
What to expect during recovery?
What goals can you reach on recovery?
Are there any signs that the injury is getting worse?
Become an expert and help your child understand exactly what to expect so they are at ease. Some of the most frightening part of a bad injury is the unknown, will I ever play again and will it hinder future performances. Having the answers to those lingering questions gives the sense of control over the situation. I’ve discovered that finding success stories of stars who have made full recoveries from similar injuries can help inspire and keep a positive mentality.
Long term injury- Physiotherapy/rehabilitation during an injury
Keep a positive attitude towards physiotherapy. Trust the therapist or doctor. They have your child’s best interests in mind. Obviously, if you disagree with the advice or verdict, do get a second opinion of a trained professional.
The first instinct is usually to train your way to recovery. A lot of damage can be done very early on by testing your limitations. Rest is key for the early stages of an injury. Resting is the first step on any successful return from an injury layoff. Once you have the all clear from the doctor or Physio, that’s when the training should come into it.
The hardest and most demanding part will be doing the exercises recommended by the physio. So many injury spells I have seen take longer than they need to because the stretches and exercises aren’t done regularly. Sometimes it’s because they put stress on the injury, cause discomfort but more often than not it’s out of laziness, stubbornness or lack of belief that they are making a difference. If the rehabilitation causes pain, you should consult the doctor. It could be a sign the rest period isn’t over. Check your technique in case you’re doing more damage or if there are better exercises to replace them with. Otherwise, there should be no reason to skip the exercises given, I can speak from experience, they work. Ideally your rehab routine should take place every day. It should focus on increasing your range of motion and rebuilding the strength of the injured area.
Understand the whole process and know the point where you are and where you’re going to avoid feeling in limbo. Keeping with the physio plan, you can set reachable targets and goals through the recovery. Don’t overdo it and try speed through the rehabilitation but setting goals feels like you’re constantly making progress.
Listen to any concerns or doubts your child may have. They usually boil down to having unanswered questions or not seeing an end to the recovery. Focus on the future and what will be once they return.
Helping someone deal mentally with an injury
One of the scariest prospects of a long term injury is the thought of facing it alone, especially for a young athlete. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to make sure your child knows they’re not on their own and the road to recovery is one you’ll be travelling with them. You shouldn’t be the only support structure in place as a coping mechanism for your future sports star. For long term injuries, it’s important to not lose focus on the return. Staying in touch with the club and team is a great way to not feel forgotten. When coaching youths, I recommend anyone out with an injury to still come to the matches. Staying around the dressing room to feel part of the team and watch practice sessions when possible. It keeps them close with their teammates and can help them feel supported in their comeback.
If the club you’re involved with has the facilities, take advantage of them. Visit the club doctor or physio provided you’re comfortable with them. If the club has a gym, go there to keep active. While at the club, speak to the familiar faces. If sports is part of your child’s identity, this will reduce the feeling of loss while unable to perform.
Help your future professional athlete in a positive mental state. Motivate them through their training and recovery. Loss in motivation and training effort leads to a prolonged injury period. Point out the progress you’re seeing, note any strengthening of muscle or increases in range of movement.
Watch out for warning signs like over-eating, a loss of appetite, change of sleeping patterns or a reluctance to leave their room. There can be an overwhelming feeling of loss when a potential professional athlete picks up an injury. It can shatter someone’s self esteem, making them feel vulnerable. These feelings are completely normal, the important part is how you deal with them. Accept that it’s ok to be upset but also focus on how to move forward.
Keeping sharp and fit during an injury
Once your future star is on the road to recovery, there are a few ways to supplement the rehabilitation. Of course, don’t put too much strain on the injury and consult your doctor. These are some of the best methods I’ve seen work to help build strength and balance, increase the range of motion and simply keep fit and active. I link to affordable products on Amazon to help with each. The workouts that will work best will depend on the injury type.
Resistance bands – Most physiotherapists I speak to recommend using resistance bands while rehabilitating an injury. First of all, they are fantastic to help increase the range of motion of muscular injuries. They also strengthen the muscle and are flexible to any level. These bands are great because they can be combined to add difficulty. Foam rollers, like this one on Amazon are great to massage out muscle tightness.
Stability ball – A stability ball will work on balance and core muscle strength. It’s fun for young children but can do more harm if not used correctly. Like the resistance bands, it’s portable and easy to use.
Cardio Exercise – Cardio fitness is really important to maintain while injured if possible. It will mean the return won’t be so grooling for your child trying to reach match fitness again. An exercise bike is ideal if the injury allows. It can be set up at home and takes very little maintenance. This bike on Amazon is compact, easy to use and affordable. Swimming is another fantastic cardio exercise that reduces stress on muscles during movements.
Weights – There are tons of exercises that can be added to a routine during injury to build strength and stay active. For a beginner or younger child, I recommend a set like this. Their weights are heavy enough to promote muscle growth but manageable for a beginner. For the advanced or older athlete a set like this is ideal for a home gym.
Repetitive stress injuries or muscle overuse injuries usually develop over time and not a heavy impact or tackle. These injuries are wear and tear from straining and repetitive use of muscles. Examples of this include shin splints, tennis elbow and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s the lack of rest time that increases the chances of overuse. The biggest recommendation I can give is to allow time for healing between games and practice sessions, especially if these niggling annoyances are starting to creep in.
Active children and young competitive athletes are at risk because their bodies are still in development stages. As they grow, being careless with injury can cause longer term health issues. Growth spurts result in extra tightness which can affect muscles, tendons, ligaments and cause stress fractures or inflammation. If your child suffers from pains after activity, encourage a rest period or activities that don’t use the same movements. If these pains continue, speak to your doctor.
There are other warning signs for stress injuries beyond pain. General stiffness, muscle fatigue, clicking or popping joints and numbing are all warning signs.
When is the right time to return?
Be patient in deciding the right time to return. The feeling of being close to a full recovery is exciting and will make you feel on top of the world. Don’t rush back into full swing. Minimize the risks of any repeat injuries by knowing your limitations. Understanding what caused the injury in the first place will decrease the chances of a recurrence. Slowly test your ability. Make sure you’re fully warmed up and stretched, especially if you suffered from a muscle injury.
Tips to prevent injury
One of my biggest recommendations for any future sports superstar, in particular for younger children, is not to focus too heavily on a single sport. Good rest periods are essential to avoid stress injuries. Playing multiple sports that use different skills is great to avoid strain from repeating the same movements. It will keep them active during rest periods. An example would be a Football player playing racket sports in off season. It develops new skills and can make an athlete more well rounded.
Nutrition has a big part in injury prevention. Eating a balanced diet full of proteins, healthy fats, fiber and carbohydrates will aid recovery between training sessions. If training involves weight resistance and muscle building, I recommend increasing protein and fat intake. Eggs, fish, meats and beans are all great sources of proteins and fats. Make sure your child always tries to remain hydrated during practices and matches. For picky children, I have some Sports Nutrition tips for Fussy Eaters.
Warm up, stretching and cooling down
Prior to and after any heavy sporting activity, ensure a good warm up and warm down session take place that include stretching. Focus particularly on stretching the muscles that will be used or were used. Improving flexibility reduces the chances of pulling or straining any muscles. If possible, look into some Yoga stretches. Some professional athletes claim that adding Yoga sessions into their training extended their playing career by years by avoiding injury.
The most obvious, but often missed recommendation for contact sports is to always wear the appropriate gear. Even in practice, wear protective padding if necessary. Knee pads, shoulder pads, wristbands, shin pads, helmets, boxing gloves when working on punching bags.
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