Even with the best of intentions and preparations such as first aid classes, CPR certification, AEDs on-site, teaching the proper technique to players, checking the field before every game, buying all the right equipment and more, accidents can and do happen in youth sports. Most of the times these sports injuries are pretty minor—a scraped up knee or elbow, maybe a jammed finger or bloody nose, or a sprained ankle that requires a couple days off their feet. Playing sports, especially full-contact sports, comes with a certain risk and even though 99% of the time nothing goes awry every now and again there is a freak accident that ends in a season ending injury.
Season ending injuries like a torn ACL are most athletes’ worst nightmare and can be a pretty terrifying experience for youth athletes and their parents. Overcoming a season ending injury is as much a physical process (there can be quite a bit of rehab involved and sometimes even surgery) as it is a mental process. Let’s be honest, most kids (especially athletes at the top of their game) feel invincible. A season ending injury might be the first time their body has ever really let them down. Here are some tips for helping your athlete recover from a season ending injury:
Let them be upset.
You wouldn’t be particular happy if you tore your ACL either, so give your youth athlete some time to be sad, disappointed or even a little bit angry. The last thing a youth athlete wants to do is miss out on the season (especially if it just started) and when you love something no one likes being told they have to sit on the sidelines. Try to be as patient as understanding as possible because even though they might be in fighting form next season that doesn’t get them on the field now, and that’s probably what they are the most upset about.
Help them find new ways to be involved with their team.
Depending on the extent of their injury, maybe your youth athlete could stay involved with their team for the rest of the season even if they can’t actually play during a game. For instance, you don’t need your ACL to play catch and a stationary target is great for teaching baseball players accuracy with their throws. Maybe they can become a de-facto assistant coach and help run drills at practice or stay involved on the sidelines. No athlete likes to be quarantined to the bench so look for other ways to keep them involved while they recover.
Find something else to occupy their time.
Depending on the level of competition your youth athlete is used to performing at a season ending injury might mean they have more free time on their hands then they have ever had to deal with before. See if you can use this free time to get them involved in other activities that won’t interfere with their recovery. Maybe they can finally take up and instrument, try a kid’s art class or some other extracurricular activity they never had time for before. The idea is to keep them from feeling they are getting left behind with nothing to do or that because they are no longer an “athlete” their day-to-day somehow now comes up short.
Depending on how severe their season ending injury was your youth athlete might need a lot of time to fully recover both physically and mentally…and the two don’t always happen simultaneously. Even if they bounce back physically they might not be fully mentally recovered. Parents should focus on staying positive, being patient and help their youth athlete find their old groove.