Besides the physical pain that comes with a debilitating athletic injury, it is evident that athletes are left with a host of more cerebral issues in their time of recuperation. Depression, loss of purpose, and alienation from the team community are all a part of the myriad issues that immediately arise in an athlete when he or she goes down with an injury.
From a physiological perspective, the latent effects begin in the area of injury but immediately trigger responses on several levels that make things worse for the individual. Dr. Megan Cannon, PhD., sports psychologist at Allentown-based Mind of The Athlete, LLC., expanded on this when she explained the positive benefits of sports-based exercise and the detriment it has on the human psyche when that is abruptly halted.
As one routinely exercises, Cannon explains, a baseline supply of “feel good chemicals (such as serotonin) is released in your brain.” To continue the explanation in layman’s terms, she likened this buildup to the “Claw” arcade game that is at one time consistently filled with toys to pick from. When an injury occurs though, it’s as if the arcade staff completely forget about replenishing the supply of toys while one’s brain cells adeptly act as the “claw” in picking up and moving away the remaining stockpile of hormones.
The result of this decimated baseline is then manifested through a host of negative effects leading to the depressive state mentioned above – as well as possibilities for high levels of irritability and even low bodily energy.
Michael Cox, MS, Head Athletic Trainer at Neumann University, watches this process constantly as he witnesses injuries on the playing field. A former college baseball player, Cox himself fell victim to injury and experienced similar reactions as he sought to get back in the game.
Speaking for himself and now for his injured athletes, he simply says, “you felt like it’s the end of the world.”
Because of this, Cox takes a highly mental approach to therapy that is rooted in engaging and stimulating athletes to personally own and earn small victories in their quest to return to action. Recuperation, he says, “is a day-by-day thing…I let them rule themselves.”
Implicit in the recipe for successfully getting through the injury is patience from the injured and mindful cooperation from the team and coaching staff to continually make them active members of the team. If this does not occur, things can get exponentially more difficult.
As Cannon explains, poor recognition and involvement can make matters so much worse for the fragile injured player as they “literally see the game moving on without you.”
That image is a hurtful, indelible one for athletes that have immense amounts of fear and pain overtake them as they try in many ways to cope with their injury. That’s why Cox does his part in making a “game within a game” for the athletes to overcome their injuries on a step-by-step, daily basis. Recognizing that every player is different in their ability to recuperate, he spends a lot of time fostering a calm, patient demeanor that will see them through the peaks and valleys of the days to come.
Through the words of Cannon and Cox and in sharing the stories of athletes such as former West Virginia Tight End Chris Snook and current Neumann Ice Hockey Defenseman, Sam House, it is clear that athletes must be aware of their situation beyond just their singular injury and how this may prove to affect them in many unforeseeable ways.
If anything, the process is an evolutionary one that deals with a primarily sport-first mentality. When that primacy is taken from them, the athlete is forced to either accept the new limitations that have been presented with the serious injury or simply fail in perceiving and experiencing the game – and one’s life – in a healthy way when presented in this context.
That is why as he struggled with his several concussions related to football, Chris needed to either reevaluate the overall meaning of his life and how football complemented it, lest he be alienated from his team and community. The same went for the Canadian, House, who has struggled with shoulder injuries while attempting to find a new home in a place far from where he grew up.
Here at ISSCD, we seek to deepen awareness of the idea of balance and how that plays into a comprehensive outlook on sport in one’s life and beyond. As athletes increase in ability and commitment, the results of a dream deferred really do seem catastrophic. All the more reason for a prudent, knowledgeable outlook on adversity and how that can make a seemingly earth shattering event put the pieces all together in a quite fantastic way.