(Thanks to Tom Hurley for this great post!)
I’ve had a couple of really frank discussions lately about how a simple change in perspective can dictate nearly every choice that one is faced with making. This holds true in both sport and life. And as I pondered and discussed this with some of my friends I kept circling back around to the one critical point that sets us apart (as far as we know) from all other animals on earth; our innate ability to ask “why”.
Using that as my jumping-off point I realized quite quickly that the phrase “why me” is usually fraught with a serious amount of negativity. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard that phrase when dealing with both young and older athletes, especially following a potentially season and or sport changing injury. The “why me” part of the question however, is far less important than the feelings silently inserted between the words “why” and “me”; and it is there, in that simple space, where the champion is made.
You see, the missing link in the phrase “why me” usually sounds something quite similar to this: “why did this happen to me?” and the very instant that those words are uttered, the athlete has created a paradigm where: 1) they are the victim, 2) they have given control away, 3) they have opened a window for the demons of doubt to enter. All three of which are situations that, though incredibly real, can be assuaged with some really simple redirection and mental skills practice.
Of course it is quite natural to have an initial negative reaction to an injury or some other circumstance that threatens your continued involvement in a particular sport or activity; especially for younger athletes who have committed a huge portion of their free-time toward becoming as skilled as possible.
Fear is a primary emotion. That said, when a young athlete focuses on the fear of re-injury it is nearly impossible for them to focus on the prospect of returning to pre-injury play. The fear of re-injury not only inhibits intensity of play, but places the athlete at a higher risk of more injury due to compensatory movement patterns as they avoid using the injured or affected body part. This is the factor most commonly associated with an athlete’s return to full participation, and can be the most frustrating for the athlete to try to overcome.
There are four vital elements that should be considered when dealing with the psychological aspects of all of these injury scenarios.
1) First and foremost it is vital to validate the athlete’s fear as a rational, normal and completely expected outcome of having been injured.
2) Set specific, progressive, reasonable goals for the athlete’s full return to play.
3) Utilize imagery and relaxation techniques.
4) Incorporate positive self-talk.
All of these elements are equally important, however the one that may have to most long-lasting effects, and help a young athlete learn about the importance of resiliency and become more of a process centered athlete is #4. The incorporation of positive self-talk is where we get to redress the initial “why did this happen to me” and change that one critical word from “to” to “for”.
“Why did this happen for me” directly changes the 3 negative components that we mentioned earlier.
1) They are no longer the victim, rather they have been given a challenge, 2) they have accepted that they are in control of how they receive this challenge; 3) they have eliminated a stronghold for the demons of doubt and have given themselves a point of focus. As well, they have given the phrase “why me” an entirely new and positive perspective; one that they may carry with them far outside the world of sport.
I love when a young athlete grasps this concept, in both sport…and life.