The worst part of the coaching is no doubt injuries. No matter if it’s your players or the opposing team’s, you never want to see an athlete go down with an injury. That being said it’s impossible to avoid. A turned ankle, hard collision or in the worst case, an injury that requires surgery will happen to someone you coach.
Or it might happen to you, which is the case for me this past April. A few weeks after my birthday, I was playing basketball and one push off to grab a loose ball started my 7-8 months of rehabilitation and recovery from rupturing and tearing my Achilles tendon.
This post is a release for me to chronicle how Achilles injuries happen, mental tips for when this happens to you or your players with advice for taking it in stride the best you can. I’ll have another post on the timeline and expectations of Achilles in the next week.
How an Achilles Tendon Rupture Happens
My Achilles Ruptured occurred just like you typically hear about. I was back-pedaling after I missed a Free Throw and the ball got tipped back to me. I pushed off with my left foot and felt a slap on the back of my ankle. Immediately my thought was someone threw a basketball and it hit the back of my ankle but when I looked back, there was no basketball. Right then and there I knew it wasn’t good. I caught the basketball and then got called for a travel! Insult to injury, as they say.
Four things I’ve learned from this:
- Practice and Make your Free Throws: This could be the difference between a torn Achilles and a healthy one 🙂
- Achilles injuries are difficult to prevent and/or predict: In talking with the doctors after, Achilles injuries don’t really give you warning signs and happen when they happen. I stretch before every game I play and will continue to do so but no matter what you do, there will always be a risk when you step on a playing field or basketball court.
- Thompson’s Test: If you want a quick test to see if you ruptured your Achilles, you can use this test to see if you have done this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcs2F_nZsW0
- Get It Looked At ASAP: Unlike ankle injuries and others I have had, the Achilles is definitely one you want to get taken care of as soon as it happens. If you let it linger before surgery, you not only are wasting time that could be spent healing and rehabilitating but you also risk the tendon shortening in a way that will make full recovery a bit more difficult.
There is no “true” reason for this injury, other than playing sports and pushing it athletically. Be smart and make sure to stretch and strengthen your body but at the end of the day, any fear of injury playing sports is a wasted thought. Injuries like this can happen but it’s worth playing the sports we love.
Mental Recovery Steps from an Achilles
Let’s get this out of the way. Injuries are no fun and they always come at the worst times. They are inconvenient, require a ton of effort and energy to come back from and in the end, require patience, which I know is not the strongest suit for the athletes I know.
When a major injury happens like an Achilles or ACL, it’s not just the physical side that needs to recover but the mental side is just as tough. In the first few weeks, you’ll feel a ton of emotions and it’s important try to use these emotions in the most productive way possible.
Here are my tips:
Curse and Be Mad…But Only For a Moment: When you have a major injury it’s important to give yourself time to be angry, cry and hate what just happen. It’s natural and needed to begin to recover both physically but most importantly mentally from the injury. If you bottle up the feeling and let it fester, it will pour out of you at some point. Embrace those feelings early on and vent.
Remember the Positive: I will also tell you that you’ll reflect on the injury and why it happened a lot during your recovery process. Again, those moments are natural and whenever you feel down, it’s important not to dwell on it. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to immediately think of something you are thankful for when you have one of these moments. It’s not always easy but it keeps you moving forward.
Let Your Friends and Family Help You: I, for one, am not the best letting others help me. Yes, you need to learn to do stuff yourself with crutches but also know that you can ask for help and your friends and family (and most strangers) willingly will do so. Whether it’s opening doors, carrying items or helping you with errands like grocery shopping or laundry, be OK with accepting help. When I became injured, a friend of mine who had the same exact injury years earlier said it was one of the best times of his life because it allowed him to slow down and meet a number of friends he still is close with. Make sure to use this as an opportunity to connect vs. close off.
- My favorite memory from this is the day I tore my Achilles. I actually didn’t tell my friends and drove myself to the hospital (my injury was on the left side so I can still drive). After they heard about it, they immediately came to the hospital, sat with me at the emergency room and drove me home. They didn’t have to do this at all but wanted to. I think back to this moment a lot when I’m down about the injury and it always lifts my spirits. I have great friends that care about my heath and well-being.
Bite Size Milestones: Let yourself have easy wins. Achilles injuries take on average 8-12 months to get all the way back. If this is your only goal, it’s going to continue to be a goal that seems incredibly far off. Try to think of goals that are quickly achievable. A few of mine included:
- Crutching downtown to work: Getting used to crutches and building endurance with them takes some time but my goal was to crutch in every day to work. I look back at that first time and now it’s routine.
- Daily Achilles Workout: I’ve just started PT after the six week mark and now I have a daily goal of building flexibility and strength in my leg with the achilles workouts they give me. This is a daily accomplishment.
- Upper body workouts: Running and basketball were my two prominent workout activities and with an achilles injury that eliminated them. So I’ve focused time to work out my upper body and core. Find ways to remain active and work toward something.
When I look back at the first 6 weeks of my recovery, the time has gone by like a flash while also being slow as molasses. It’s in the moments that I occupy my mind and life with activities that it goes by faster. Don’t let your life and connections stop when you have a major injury. Use it as a time to grow, reflect and come back stronger.
Understand that injuries are demoralizing to your players and a growth mindset will not be their first reaction to this adversity. Let them know you care and will help them overcome this tough obstacle.
They Will Always Be Part of the Team
This past season, we had a player tear her ACL playing soccer in the Fall season. It was a huge blow to the player and our basketball team but I couldn’t be prouder of how the player approached the injury. While there were good days and bad, she worked hard through her recovery and most important stayed a vital member of our team from Day 1 of the season through to our final game. Just as important, she’s back to playing ball again this summer!
The best thing we did as a coaching staff was stress her importance to our team not just as a basketball player but a vocal leader from the bench to cheer on her teammates, extra coach to help us see things that were happening in the game and as she progressed physically, working on other areas of her game (i.e. post up moves as a guard). These things aren’t glamorous and she didn’t have to do this. She could have skipped all our practices and games and focused on other things but she helped our team be better with her presence every day.
And that’s what team sports are all about. Being part of a team during the good and bad. Not being just about the performance on the court but the growth off it. Injuries suck but they offer an opportunity just like anything else. But only if you look to embrace it!