Player injuries are an unfortunate but inevitable part of youth sports. However, like so many other aspects of sports, injuries provide “teachable moments.” These are opportunities for Responsible Coaches to use misfortune or adversity to teach a life lesson and cultivate character.
The single most important thing to address is the possibility that the injured player becomes depressed. With sports at the center of so many children’s lives, the absence can leave a void that can quickly fill with negativity. The physical and emotional energy previously brought to practice and games, now lacking an outlet, can turn to inward anger. It is not uncommon for children, especially adolescents, to define themselves by their sports and to therefore question their identity or self-worth when the sport is taken away. Responsible Sport Parents and Coaches together can partner to keep our youth players positive.
For Responsible Coaches, one of the keys to combating negativity is by keeping the player involved in the team. As long as the player contributes, he or she resists at least some of the negative feelings that accompany injury. In fact, a forced idleness is a great opportunity for a player to view the game differently than it appears in the midst of action. For example, the sidelines are an unparalleled place to recognize offensive patterns or defensive strategies. It may take long and repeated talks with injured players before they understand and accept the opportunity to learn this way. However, it is worth the investment, because it is healthy for the player and can turn him into a sideline asset. You, as coach, gain another set of eyes and another source of encouragement to the other players.
To cultivate the behavior you want from the injured player, you must assign specific tasks. Doing so:
- Demonstrates the sincerity of your statement that the player still can contribute
- Occupies his or her pent-up energy
- Can yield invaluable insight into your own team and your opponents.
Here are some specific tasks you might assign:
- Watching the clock to help coaches manage play-calling
- Studying teammates and opponents who play the same position as the injured player so he can identify techniques to try (or avoid!) after return from injury
- Assessing other positions they may want to consider playing when healthy
- Charting tendencies of a specific opponent and reporting to coaches at halftime or advising teammates between series
- Helping substitute players warm up and prepare to enter the game
- Encouraging players as they wait on the sidelines between series
- Keeping track of normally uncharted statistics, especially effort goals
Many of these tasks will have the injured player deliver good news to teammates, thus keeping them involved and strengthening bonds between players. Seeing the silver lining within the cloud of the injury will speed the injured player’s recovery, at least emotionally, and keep him or her as a positive force on your team.
For Responsible Sports Parents on the sideline, consider engaging your youth athlete in some of these very topics – asking them after the game what they thought of the opponent’s strategy or asking them how their team did against their effort goals. And yes, even though your child might not be playing due to his or her injury, Responsible Sports Parents can help reinforce the essential life lessons from sports by continuing to go to games and cheer for the team from the stands.
Has your athlete or your team struggled with motivating injured players this season? We’d love to hear from you. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what your experiences have been!
Phone: (914) 235-5110
Fax: (914) 235-5323
32 Elm Place, Suite 1S
Rye, New York 10580