Four Ways to Handle the Frustration of Being Injured

Updated: Feb 14

I've gotta say, I love my "job." I have the opportunity to travel the 🌎 every year and teach the game of basketball to passionate players and coaches. And throughout the year I get to work online with some incredible players and coaches to help make them better, as well as walk through the tough situations that the game of 🏀 throws our way. I love it so much, I wouldn't call it a job at all!


Each week I also receive multiple messages in my 📥, asking me some amazing and thoughtful questions. Recently, one question came through from Emma Ayers, and it really struck a chord with me. It was something I struggled with as a player, and I know many of you do, too.


Here's what Emma asked me:


What a tough situation for any of us to be in! Missing time is never fun, but an entire season is unbearable! 😩 Unfortunately, if you play basketball long enough, handling the frustration of being injured is something we're all going to have to deal with.


Below are the things I shared with Emma as she was dealing with the news of her injury, and I'd encourage you to read them. Whether you're currently going through an injury, or if you ever have to face a similar situation in the future, these Four Ways to Handle the Frustration of Being Injured can come in clutch for you.


Note: Read all the way to the end to get an update on how Emma's doing after following through with these four things we talked about.

I believe that handling/responding to an injury is a skill that requires a mentally tough person to help overcome. Instead of constantly living in the frustration and disappointment an injury can bring, change your approach and view it as a separator for you. Every single player is going to deal with injuries at some point, and this is just another opportunity to show how special you really are.


Many players will wallow in the irritation of being injured while they miss time, and once the injury has fully healed, only then will they begin to get mentally ready to play again. That's not what special players do. Special players rehab both physically and mentally when they're out with injury. That way, once they're back on the court, they're not only ready to compete again, but they'll be prepared to be an even better player than before the injury.


One of the best examples of this is NBA star, Paul George. In the summer of 2014, George was considered one of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA. Then in July, he experienced a gruesome and devastating leg injury in a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas; suffering a compound fracture in both bones in his lower right leg. For the next couple of weeks, the question was when George would be back, but if he would ever play in the NBA again.

Fast forward to the next season, and George shocked the world by playing in the final six games for the Indiana Pacers. Then the following season (2015-16), George proved exactly how tough he was. That year he averaged 23.1 points per game for the Pacers and even made the NBA All-Star team.


Since that time, George has continued to play at an All-NBA and MVP level, but that shouldn't be a surprise to any of us. After all, this is what he said shortly after severely breaking his leg:


"It's a bump in the road," George said. "Something that'll make me stronger going forward."


Be that type of athlete. Use injuries to make you stronger moving forward.

 


When you’re missing practices and games while you’re out/rehabbing, get excited on the days you really miss it! Longing to be back on the court and playing the game you love just shows how important basketball is to you. It can even be an extra motivation to come back stronger and better than ever.


Over the years, numerous players have talked to me about questioning their love for the game. The time they put in, the failures, the setbacks, the lack of playing time, etc. Those are real questions, and a decision that each person must make for themself.


But as you're missing time for an injury, that's a great opportunity to see how deep your passion lies. If you wake up, morning after morning, dearly missing the game; that's a great thing! It shows how much you care and how badly you desire to be the best you can be to help your team be successful. Embrace that feeling and bottle it up.

 

I get it. The biggest frustration with being injured is that you can't be out on the court with your team during practices and games. But here's my question to you during that time, "Are you controlling the things you can actually control?" Sure, an injury may keep you physically from being on the floor, but it's on you as a player to stay connected mentally with the game and your team.


Anyone can disengage from a team while they're dealing with an injury, but it takes a special player to find ways to stay engaged with what's going on and continue to make others around them better.


Last year, one of my team's seniors, PJ, suffered a season-ending injury in our fourth game of the season. PJ had been a starter and our team's leading scorer since his sophomore season, and just like that his high school career was over. I wouldn't have blamed PJ for not being around the team very much or sitting at the end of the bench during games. It's tough losing out on something you've worked so hard for.


But that isn't who PJ is. Instead of mentally checking out on his teammates, PJ found new ways to influence the games we were playing in. He had a seat amongst the coaches on the sidelines. He would call out instructions and give me ideas throughout the game. One time during a close game, even he called me over during the middle of the game, and he drew up a play on a coaching board that he thought we should try. My response? I called time out and let "Coach PJ" run the timeout. It was a great play ... and we even got a bucket off of it, too! 😂


So whether it’s when you’re with your team, volunteering to coach a little kids YMCA team, or something different, find ways to stay close to the game. You’ll learn a lot by watching it from a different angle/with a different perspective. You could even ask your coach for a role you could play during practices and on game days. There's no doubt it will make both you and your teammates better.

 

When I was still playing, the toughest part about injuries was always the mental struggle/emotions when I’d be out and then also while I was rehabbing. The frustrations, disappointment, doubts, etc. would get the best of me because I kept it all in and never talked to anyone about it. I would be too nervous to share or unsure of how people would begin to view me if I was transparent with my feelings.


Keeping that type of emotion and feelings in and to yourself is never a good idea. Just like your physical health is real factor on your career, so is your mental health. Holding those things in and trying to handle them all on your own, is a losing battle from the start. Eventually it's going to begin to cause erosion your mental health, just like strong winds will knock chunks of rock away from the side of a mountain.


It's vital that you take as much care of your mental health as you do your physical health anytime you're dealing with an injury. Whether it’s a coach, parent, teammate. friend, me, etc., you MUST find at least one person you can talk to while you going through the injury and rehab process.

 

While I wish I could give you four ways to avoid ever getting injured, I can't. There's no special magic fairy dust for that. Instead, when you do find yourself dealing with an injury, use these four ideas to use your injury as a springboard instead of a setback.


EMMA'S UPDATE: While Emma was told she'd miss the entire season, she did an incredible job with her physical and mental rehab, and made her 2021-22 debut on Tuesday, January 25th! Not only was Emma back on the court playing the game she loves, but she also came up BIG for her team and knocked down her first three of the year.


Here's what Emma shared with me once she made her comeback:


"I cannot thank you enough, Coach. ... Looking back from July to now, I have realized I have grown up a lot and your wisdom helped so much. ... Thank you again."


Great job, Emma! I hope we all learn an important lesson from your approach!

 

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