Injuries: the Mental Challenge

140306 David PocockIt seems like ground hog day as we witness yet another season-ending injury for Brumbies and Wallabies flanker David Pocock (seen here in the photo he tweeted from hospital).

His frustration must be sky high after tearing his anterior crucial ligament (ACL) for the second time in consecutive years. After all the rehab work and the heartache over the past twelve months, it’s such a shame he has to do it all over again. I really feel for the guy.

Injuries are part of the game. We all go through it, some more than others of course, but we battle on and ride it out to take the field again no matter how long it takes. The fierce competitive edge is always there and the will never to give up on ourselves.

But a professional rugby player’s mental toughness can also work against him. One of the hardest things is to accept the simple fact that you’re injured. At first you are in disbelief, oblivious to everything that’s going on around you. You’re focused on one thing and one thing only:

When can I play again?

The mental battle for anyone going through injury is one of the toughest challenges an athlete will endure. Generally, professional sportsmen have a considerable amount of free time even when they’re not injured. Once you’re injured, you really do begin to wonder what on earth you are going to do with your time.There’s only so many hours you can spend doing rehab, playing play station, and watching movies!

Staying engaged aids recovery

In my experience, the best thing to do is to help the team out where you can, analyzing oppositions, actively assisting on a one to one level with teammates etc. An injured player engages himself within the team environment that way. And you need that, because you definitely feel like a separate entity — very much segregated from the playing group — when you’re injured. I’ve found this to be a very positive approach. It actively assists the recovery and is encouraged at most organizations.

If the player goes the other way — into a hole, depressed and continuously down on themselves — then that’ll only work against them.

I feel you constantly need some sort of positive energy running through your body to aid recovery. By keeping busy and being productive you promote the right mentality, which in turn helps recovery from your injury. You get a strong sense of satisfaction helping your teammates out off the field, developing their game that way. These little projects really work in your favor.

It’s very normal to get down and think everything’s against you when you’re not playing. Remaining positive and surrounding yourself by good people who will encourage and support you is essential. Of course it’s also a time to look to family and close friends for guidance, as well as the coaching staff, to help you through.

David will be going through this exact transition and you can’t help but feel for him.

Wallaby legend George Smith and All Black great Richie McCaw have barely seen the sidelines through long term injury, proving these two are just freaks of nature put on the earth to play rugby. On the other hand, Springbok sensation Butch James sustained an unbelievable five (!) ACL injuries in his career and always came out the back of it a stronger man and better all round player. His mental strength, courage and support network are obviously on another level. Really something to admire.

Once a player gets past the initial upset and accepts the fact that they’re injured and will be on the sidelines for some time, recovery can begin. For David Pocock the tough times ahead will make him a stronger player, by knowing that if he can get through this he can get through anything: “no challenge too big,  no mountain too high”.

Good luck, David!

Photograph: @pocockdavid

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