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Advice Oct 10, 2013

The upside of injuries: Expect a silver lining

Editor’s note: This is the latest blog post from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

Does it seem like everyone is getting injured? Even the pros.

Ronaldinho – muscle tear, out 3 months

Jores Okore – out with ACL tear

Even Messi, the great Messi – battling a right leg injury, which has taken him out of play.

When the professionals get hurt, the question is always, “How soon can they return?” Will they be available for the big game, the tournament, the World Cup? Attention is focused on getting back into play, as it should be. They’re professionals. That’s what they get paid (millions) to do.

In my research and work with injuries and recovery in young athletes, I actually see an upside, almost every time. Call it a silver lining. I am reminded of this in reading an article about George Meyers, a senior at Ocean City High School.

He suffered a season-ending injury in a collision which broke both bones in his lower leg. According to the article, he underwent surgery nine times and had to return to the hospital a 10th time.  When he returned to the field in his senior season –  a full year later  there was a rousing ovation. It’s a feel-good story.

They ask Meyers how he felt and he answers very honestly.

“It was a great feeling of accomplishment,” Meyers said of his return. “I wasn’t sure if I could keep up the pace right away but I did. There is still a slight discomfort when I kick the ball … My ankle doesn’t turn quite the same as it did.”

This doesn’t sound great until you hear the “rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.

One more thing.

Meyers has decided after he graduates from Ocean City High School in June, he’d like to find a good nursing program.

“Being in the hospital for three weeks gave me a feeling for how important nurses are,” he said. “I saw how much they can help people who need help and it inspired me. I want to do that.”

In my experience, Meyers’ response is quite typical. After such a serious injury and during the long convalescence, there is stoppage time. Time to reflect and observe. Does his body work the same? No. But… there’s more to the story.

This “one more thing” is what I see all the time in young people who get injured. Sport is not their career, but in sport they find meaning and a calling. After fighting through something difficult, they have a new perspective. It’s not just about the game and the glory. There’s more to it.

This week, three of my high school players have asked if they can interview me as an “expert” for topics they have chosen to write about for English papers. One chose concussions. Another, IT band injuries. The third, psychological injury due to the overly-pressured environment of sports.

People are getting injured out there, teammates and friends are suffering, and these young athletes want to do something to stop it. Step one: analyze the problem. Step two: devise a solution. Step three: implement it.

If there’s an upside to injuries, it’s the awareness it develops in our young players: They have the resources to investigate them and be part of the solution. To prevent them, even. Because these kids don’t want to give up sports any more than the pros do.

We don’t pay these kids. They do it for the love of the game. And to gather what they can about life and how best to approach it. When they are looking for answers, they come to the experts, and they bring really good questions. Good proposals. Excellent solutions. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the wheels turning. It’s how they’re putting all of this together.

That’s what happens when we take a good hard look at something that’s broken and stop to see how we can fix it. We come away with a new perspective or a new insight, even if the injury leaves our leg “still with some discomfort” or an “ankle that doesn’t turn quite the same.” Young people across the country are investigating the health care professions after receiving good care and being set back on their feet.

Fit2Finish gets inquires all the time. And so do my friends in physical therapy and athletic training, in orthopedics and rehabilitation. That’s great news for the future of sport.

OCHS senior George Meyers took the field to cheers and applause from fans, players and coaches. There is just something about a hero who overcomes difficult circumstances that makes us want to cheer.

There are plenty of difficult circumstances these kids will inherit. Our national news is a constant reminder of that. Using their resources to define the problem, consult the experts, suggest a solution, and implement it — well, those are life skills that seem in short supply these days.

Just because we’re down, doesn’t mean we’re out. But the solution lies inside the issue. We’ve just got to be inquisitive enough to find it and strong enough to put it into play.

Have you or one of your athletes found new perspective or developed new insight in the time off during injury?  Please share it with the SoccerWire community here in the comments!