My oldest daughter has been playing sports since at least Kindergarten. Now as a junior in high school she plays for our homeschool athletic association in three sports: basketball, volleyball, and fast-pitch softball. Now, please don’t get our team confused with a rec. league, this is hard-core high school athletics. Along the way, she and her friends have faced many injuries. She alone has had: sprained ankles sprained MCL, thrown out a shoulder, concussion, torn an ACL and partially torn an MCL and many other minor injuries. Her friends have had many of the same injuries also. High school sports are tough and tough on the body. But how can you help your child that’s been sidelined due to an injury? You may also be thinking, “Why on earth would I continue to let her play after so many injuries?” More about that later!
There are a few things you can do to help your child that’s been sidelined.
- First, let the doctor tell your child they will be sidelined for a while. This keeps the child from being upset with you for benching them. Matter of fact, it is what our doctors have told us. They would rather be the bad guy. After all, you are the one living with the athlete, not them!
- Understand how frustrating it is for your child or at least try. Being sidelined is hard emotionally, especially for a child that gives a 110% to a team. They will be angry and maybe a little depressed at being sidelined.
- Try to understand that their frustration isn’t necessarily aimed at you (especially if you let the doctor give them the bad news). They need to be able to vent, so be a sounding board. This is just something they have to work through.
- Continue to take them to practices and games. Yes, this may be inconvenient for you, but a necessity for them. They will get the support of their teammates and still feel like a vital part of the team. This way when they return, they know everything that’s been going on.
- On the flip side, understand that going to practices/games may be tough. It’s hard to sit on the bench and feel like you’re not contributing. You may hear how hard it is to watch, they may beg to be allowed to participate, and they may be over critical of their teammates. Be supportive, and let them vent, but don’t allow them to wallow in it or take it too far.
- Make them do their physical therapy! Do not miss appointments and really work those appointments to their fullest. Ask questions, make sure they do the work at home, but don’t be a taskmaster. If they are really struggling or not wanting to do the work, speak with their physical therapist.
- Refrain from immediately saying things like: “You are never playing this sport again”, “No more sports” etc. Part of this decision needs to come from your child. They are the one that has the passion and they need to have a say. Plus you could hinder their emotional recovery to be able to get back on that court or field again.
- When it comes time to step back on the court/field, know that sometimes recovering from the physical part of the injury is easier than the mental part. When my daughter had her ACL replaced, the doctors and physical therapists said the surgery was the easy part. The mental and emotional part would be the toughest. Some athletes (even pros) are never able to step back on the field/court because they can’t get over the mental aspect of the injury. Be supportive and listen, but know that at times, you may have to be a little tough.
- It can be nerve wrecking to step back out there again. They have some of the same thoughts running through their head as you do. “Will it happen again?” “What if it hurts” “What if I’m not as good as I was?” Be supportive and listen and talk to the coach or better yet, let your child talk with their coach. Coaches can be a great asset and great motivators!
- Get back on that court or field as soon as possible after they are released. The longer they wait, the harder it is to get back at it.
- You be in the stands cheering them on! It may take a season or two to recover, but knowing you are supporting them and cheering them on, is amazing medicine.
- Pray, pray, pray! Give them an object to help them visually see where they need to be. Our youth pastor gave our daughter and sweat wristband that he had prayed over. He told her to wear at every practice and game and that he better see it on her at games. He told her that when it was tough, and there would be days that would be, to look at the wristband and know that he was praying for and that she could do it. That one thing was amazing!
- Celebrate the little milestones! Physical therapy goals reached, released to play again, first time back at practice, first game back, etc. You have to base this on the child, but be an encourager, even if it’s subtle. Not every child wants a cheerleader, but some do.
There are many more things that help, but these were most helpful to our family over the years. Did I ever feel like throwing in the towel for my daughter? Of course! I’ve cried for her, when she’s been seriously injured, but always when she couldn’t see me. My heart has broken for her at times. But, she is the one that made the decision to step back out on the court/field. It had to come from her, if I made her quit, she would always wonder if she could have gone back and played again. Now she is stronger and better than before! But it was a long road getting there.