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Injured athlete on the field

The Coach's Role in the Recovery of an Injured Player

By: Kellie Adams, ATC

Injuries can be devastating to a young athlete and be both physically and mentally challenging to overcome. When a serious athlete loses the ability to play their sport, they may feel like they have also lost their identity. The athlete will look to key people in their lives for help.

An injured athlete should be encouraged to use their network of support. This network can include family, friends, teammates, coaches, athletic trainers and other healthcare providers. Each individual in this network plays a key role in the mental recovery of the athlete; however, the most important role may be that of the coach.

The coach is often looked at as the head of the athletic family, providing a primary source of guidance and inspiration. Just as an athlete looks to the coach for key plays in a game, they may now look to the coach for direction during in this unfamiliar time. The following are key points for coaches to keep in mind as they interact with an injured player.

  • Stay connected. It is vital to remain involved in the player’s life and help them feel like they are still an important part of the team.
  • Be an active listener. Watch body language and hear what the player says beyond their words. Be prepared to refer them to the athletic trainer and/or parents if they are showing signs of depression.
  • Continue to coach. Give words of encouragement and guidance for recovery goals. Ensure both player and coach have realistic expectations and don’t push too hard.
  • Keep the player connected to the team and the sport. Assign a role as an assistant in practice and encourage them to take “mental practice” on the sidelines.
  • Watch your words. Don’t neglect the player by telling teammates they are not tough enough or just don’t want to play. This destroys the player’s trust and may increase recovery time.
  • Trust the recovery team. Encourage the player to trust the athletic trainer, physical therapists and doctors.
  • Communicate clearly during the process of returning to play. Make sure the player understands that they are on the sidelines because they are not game ready, not because they are not good enough. Additional stress during this time may lengthen return-to-play time.
  • Be aware of the fear of re-injury. Recognize that the player’s fear of re-injury is very real and be prepared to refer to, and/or communicate with, the athletic trainer.

Communication is the foundation of an athlete’s recovery from injury. The coach should remain actively involved in the player’s life for the entire recovery period, even if it extends beyond the season. Showing the player they are supported emotionally, and are still important to the team, will help them be better mentally prepared for a successful rehabilitation.

Want more tips on coaching? Follow our blog and stay tuned for information on our annual Coach’s Clinic. It is free to the community and happens every summer.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.