Lessons learned by an injured athlete.
The worst thing that can happen to an athlete, is injury. It is the one thing we do everything in our power to avoid, but playing a full contact sport it is sometimes, unavoidable.
So far, non of my injuries have been too serious (such as breaks and concussions etc.), but they have still had a major impact on my performance. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I can hopefully share some of the things I have learned, so that others can try and avoid the same pitfalls I have encountered on my journey so far. Injuries have been something I’ve had to overcome on many occasions, but generally seems to heal just in time for important games. That was until last year at champs, I strained my hip flexor in the warm up to the game, I couldn’t lift my leg without pain and I really let that get to me. I was not mentally tough enough to deal with it, and i didn’t have any alternative jamming styles that would cause less pain while skating. I ended up focusing on my injury, not the game. The rest is history.
If you have skated and not felt 100%, then you will probably understand. You want to play well for your team but every time you step on track you are thinking about your injury, and wondering if you are gonna make it worse, if you will make it through the jam or if you can avoid using the injured body part. You end up with your head out of the game and afterwards, feeling like life is really unfair to deal you that hand….
This is how I felt after champs, it put me in a bad place mentally. I lost confidence and lost focus. It was a downward spiral, one that had me hit rock bottom when I skated in the game for England vs France. I had a bad game, my confidence was already shot and my mental toughness resembled the fragility of an eggshell. This lack of confidence and mental distraction didn’t go unnoticed and I was benched for the Canada vs England game that followed. After I got home from that weekend, I realised that was the point of sink or swim for me. I needed to sort out my mental game and focus. I realised I was not in a good place, it was a downfall triggered by an injury from months before, one I had recovered from physically. I needed to make some changes to my mentality and start my healing there.
I started my recovery by taking the pressure off myself, pressure that was self inflicted. I was rushing to be at the top of my game rather then appreciating how far I had come in a short while or seeing it as an opportunity to gradually grow. This realisation meant I gave myself the time to improve, rather then kicking myself for not being there already or for making mistakes. I spent a lot of time training new skills, and just trying to become the best skater I could be (this process will never stop for me, I can always learn new things). I wanted to let everything else fall into place when I was good and ready, rather then scrambling to be there in a hurry. This really helped and before I knew it I felt stronger then ever and was enjoying skating more then ever before.
The rest of the season went pretty well for me, until 12 days before our playoffs tournament in Evansville, I sprained my ankle at training, twisted it. One of those twists where your foot stays and everything else doesn’t, I sprained the anterior talofibular ligament on my right ankle. In that moment, I thought I was out for playoffs. Everyday I hoped for it to vastly improve, but everyday, it just felt the same. I even encountered days that teased me where it started to feel great, but the following day it had become worse again. I was hoping, and willing it to heal, but my body wasn’t playing ball. I didn’t skate, I went to the gym once or twice for an easy session, I just rested, rested and rested some more.
We flew out on the Wednesday and by Friday I was hopeful. I put my skates on in the morning to test the floor, it felt pretty weak and sore. I didn’t want to do too much as I hadn’t had it taped by our lovely physio (Juke Boxx’s mum, Susie) so I couldn’t know for sure until our game warm up. I had a lot of support from my team and managers. They didn’t write me off, they were trusting me to let them know if it was too sore to skate or affecting my mental game. Their support gave me a lot of confidence and made me more determined to not let it affect me. I had it strapped, and was overjoyed by the result. I COULD SKATE! Almost pain free! I felt discomfort in certain positions, it wasn’t 100%, but it felt good enough to do what needed to be done and for me that was the best thing ever! The challenge now was to NOT think about my injury, not question whether it would hurt in certain positions and to not hesitate.
I went into our first game feeling completely prepared, i didn’t fear my injury, I decided to play this game as a warrior, not a victim. I knew that it was okay to be injured and let my team know. I also knew that if it tweaked mid jam, we have great pivots who could take the star and get us through the jam. I knew that all I had to do was focus on the game, and to ignore my ankle up to the point of pain. Once i had a system in my head, an eventuality for each scenarios, it gave me the confidence to just get on with it.
When I felt discomfort, I just adjusted what I was doing in an instance and pushed the thought straight out my head. From training a variety of skills I was able to use different skating styles that would hurt less but were still effective. And I didn’t beat myself up about it. I approached this injury differently to any other in my past and it worked for me. I realised that when you recover from an injury, it’s both a physical and mental recovery. If you can reprogram your thoughts, you are halfway there.
After playoffs, I spent a further 2 weeks resting, and then 3 weeks rebuilding the strength in my ankle. At champs, it didn’t even pop into my head and by the World Cup, it was almost like I forgot I was ever injured. But even smaller injuries can cause you to drop your head and not skate your best game. By my 7th game at the World Cup, England vs USA (the final), I had a lot of little annoying injuries. Dead legs, pulled hip flexor, bruises and then a skater fell on my calf that completely seized it up for the last 2 games. I felt physically wrecked but on the track, I remembered what I had learned from my sprained ankle, I put those thoughts out of my head and focused on the game. I stopped giving myself a hard time. It worked!
I’m not saying you should ever skate injured, as you run a risk of making it worse. But sometimes even after you are healed, your confidence dwindles and you think about that injury, it can be detrimental to your game. So if you can take anything away from this, it’s to trust your body, focus your mind on the game (being positive is key, push out those negative thoughts that pop into your head) and to not be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to be injured and not be at the top of your game, it’s expected, but 9/10 times, it’s probably your head and not your body holding you back. Train new skills so that you can be successful in a style that doesn’t depend too much on your injured body part. And finally, talk to your team (managers/coaches included) keep them in the loop, be honest with them and yourself about your injury. They are there to support you.