Some physical setbacks can push careers in the right direction instead of finishing them.
Many injuries have disastrous consequences for athletes and their professional trajectory. Some, on the other hand, can act as a spring board towards success. This was the case for Sergio Asenjo, who managed to play his part in a series of matches with Villarreal and the Spanish National team after four knee operations. Stephen Curry wasn’t slowed down by his injuries either, winning two NBA titles and the MVP award with the Golden State Warriors despite his previous fourteen ankle injuries. The Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning, to name another, brought home the Super Bowl just four years after going through multiple cervical surgeries.
These accounts of major success at the hands of recovered athletes may seem somewhat miraculous but in actual fact have an explanation. What is the key to a quick recovery? How does one successfully overcome chronic injuries which would otherwise drag them down for the rest of their lives?
To begin with, the immediacy with which a diagnostic is made is fundamental. Working on recovering from the get go. “The recovery process should be happening from the very moment there is pain”, assures Greg Smith, trainer for the NHL’s Washington Capitals, in ‘The Washington Post’: “Almost all injuries suffered by high performance athletes are attended to quickly with the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). On occasion, an athlete may want to continue competing, despite the pain, but this is far from the wisest course of action. When faced with an injury, one must always stop and exercise clear, meditated judgement.
“You can’t lose time”, asserts Rodrigo Revilla. Marcet’s High Performance Academy rehabilitation coach points out that the protocol for injury care has to be interdisciplinary. “The whole technical body has to get involved in the recovery process, from managers to analysts, not to mention physiotherapists”, explains Revilla in an interview we published a few months ago:
Another fundamental aspect to managing an injury are the psychological consequences for the person having to stop performing. When professional athletes are taken out of their element, we have to look further than the simple fact that they’re momentarily pausing progression. Having to stop in their tracks is also depriving them of a core component of their identity, as their life revolves around sport. Many injuries have a negative effect on an athlete’s self-esteem which could possibly complicate the recovery process if it lacks the proper psychological and motivational support.
A break like this should be experienced more so as an opportunity than as something negative. As Asenjo put it: “I always focus on the positive aspects of whatever happens to me. I know that I am who I am thanks to everything that I’ve had to live through and mature for”. In this interview by ‘Marca’, the goalkeeper for Villarreal CF doesn’t consider an injury as a setback but rather an opportunity. Asenjo is who he is thanks to his injuries as much as anything else, not in spite of them.
A unique opportunity
The key to getting the most out of a forced break from competition is understanding it is as a unique chance lo learn and progress. The sports therapists and their technical team at Marcet have an approach to overcoming injuries that is all about perseverance, motivation and patience. “We need to understand it as a constant learning process”, explains Revilla. “For example, injured athletes can make the most of their time by dedicating it to tasks that they wouldn’t usually do as much such as strategy, video analysis and psychology”. An injury is not a waste of time, but quite the opposite. It’s an opportunity to bounce back stronger than ever.
“I always face it as optimistically as I can. I always hope to recover quicker than is predicted”, says Stephen Curry. The five-time NBA All Star has lost count of how many times he has injured his ankle, but he has always worked hand in hand with the specialists on his team to get back on the court as quickly as possible. Curry never abandons his focus and determination during the recovery process and that’s clearly key to staying motivated and headstrong. Putting the group-dynamic of team training to one side is one of the biggest mistakes an injured athlete can make. There has to be a constant feeling of belonging and inclusion, as well as having both short and long term objectives.
Learning to play again
For many, managing injuries are the most difficult part of a career in sports. “Cervical surgery was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through as a player”, Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, declares. His Cervical injury effected nerves in his right arm. “I lost all feeling in my fingertips, my grip. It was a challenge, physically speaking”, the quarterback tells ‘Marca’: “It was a challenge, a test… I had to see myself overcome it, work at it and keep a positive attitude. I needed support from my family, my doctors and my trainers. They all helped a great deal and I like to think I did overcome this challenge”.
Manning was forced to getting used to playing differently. Almost like learning to play all over again. Slowly but surely, things started getting better. Manning managed to stay on the grass another four years, up until the age of 40, and became the only quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl on two different teams, showing the world how a real professional bounces back from an injury.