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Published on May 16th, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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Returning To Derby After An Injury

By: Sweetart

Some skaters return to bouting following an injury confidently and without any worries. For others, however, returning to compete following a major injury can create unmanageable stress. Despite being medically cleared, some skaters are just not ready to return psychologically. This article is intended to help skaters who intend to return to play following a significant injury.

The skater’s response to the injury is crucial

A skater can experience many of the following after an injury:

• Guilt
• Frustration
• Loneliness
• Anger
• Hopelessness
• Identity loss
• Fears
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Doubts
• Lack of confidence
• Nightmares

How a skater responds to an injury is determined more from how they interpret or perceive the injury than from the injury itself. Many factors can influence a skaters’ perception of the injury.
Has the skater come back from an injury before? If not, they may be more stressed as this is new territory. How much of an investment does the skater have in roller derby? For those who have achieved success and are intensely involved, the whole focus of their identity, their sense of who they are as people, may be tied up in the role of athlete. For those, an injury can feel devastating. Does the injury impact the skater’s job or the ability to care for their family? The more far reaching its effects, the more the skater will experience the injury as a loss or threat.

A skater who is stressed and lacks confidence when she returns to competition will actually be more prone to re-injury. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you will get hurt, you probably will. The fear of injury produces timidity and cautiousness. You won’t be participating with the intensity that the circumstances demand. If your head is not 100% in the game then you are more likely to be injured.

How coaches react is important

The way coaches respond to an injured skater can affect the skater’s recuperation. Old school attitudes about toughness in sports (always give 110% and act tough) can cause injury and failure when taken to extremes. Many highly driven derby girls learn to withstand any amount or kind of pain. This makes for a tough skater, but can also make for an often injured skater who never plays in a fully healthy state. The can lead to a short lived career and a lifetime of pain.

Coaches must also avoid giving skaters the message that they are only valuable when they are able to bout. Injured skaters should not be isolated from healthy skaters at practices or games.

Skaters should not be made to feel guilty for not helping their team to win. They should not be made to feel ashamed of being injured or that injuries are something to hide. You should not feel pressured by your coaches to return before you are medically ready.

Coaches should allow skaters the normal expression of feelings that go along with being injured. Coaches should avoid telling skaters to “cheer up” or “suck it up”. Grieving is an important and necessary part of the recovery process.

Coaches and teammates should avoid treating the skater as the injury. You are just as much of an athlete, just as much of a person, as before the injury.

Teammates, friends, and family can affect also recovery

Teammates may stay away from the injured skater because they represent a threat of injury to themselves. Your teammates may think, “If it can happen to her, it can happen to me”. This can be more of a problem if an injury is particularly gruesome or visible.

The injury of one skater may present another skater on her team the opportunity to shine. Your teammates may have mixed feelings when giving you emotional support and wishes for a speedy return. Some level of competition is necessary and healthy within a team, however, it should not ever become personal.

The stronger the skater’s identification as an athlete, the more her friends and family may have come to interact with her primarily through her role as an athlete. People may not know quite how to relate to you now- through your past glory or your possible future, not the injured present.
Be aware of these potential problems and keep the lines of communication open to prevent a toxic situation.

So, what can you do to come back confident and stress free?

Get back to practice!

You should rejoin the team as soon as humanly possible, even on crutches or bandaged. When you are away from your team for a length of time you may feel that your team has moved on without you. There may be new jokes, new team members, etc. By being there, you will grow and develop along with your team. Find ways to be involved. For example, you can follow a teammate who plays a similar position and give feedback while mentally engaging in the drills and skills.

Use a peer mentor.

Talk to a skater who has successfully rehabilitated and returned from a similar injury.

Separate pain from injury.

Learn to differentiate between pain and injury, pressure and damage. Some pain is a normal part of muscle exertion. However, damage, such as popping a hamstring, is not.

Look for the silver lining.

It can be helpful to develop positive meaning from the injury. Not in a lame Pollyanna kind of way, but in a genuine human growth kind way. For example, some injured athletes have come out of injuries with better/smarter technical skating, increased mental toughness, and clearer priorities. Being injured and recovering, living through it, can teach us that we are stronger than we thought we were. It can show us how much we can endure. Living through an injury can reduce fear of future injuries because we know that we are strong and can heal.

Be sad.

Understand reasonable responses to an injury. It’s normal to feel frustrated and disappointed. It’s not reasonable to feel hopeless, that the injury is a sign of weakness, or that your derby career is over.

Be informed.

Learn about the injury itself and the rehabilitation process. Lacking knowledge can increase anxiety.

Use imagery.

Visualize returning to competition and kicking butt. We tend to imagine the worst that could happen. Instead, imagine situations that bring on feelings of pride, accomplishment, enthusiasm and confidence. If visualization is difficult for you, look at video or photos of yourself making an awesome block or juking around that last line of defense.

Set goals.

Collaborate with your coaches on short and long term goals. For example, “I will skate 10 laps today”, “By the end of the month I will scrimmage in three jams”, and “I will skate in our July bout”. Make goals measurable, attainable, and realistic. Goal setting will increase your commitment to fully returning to bouting. As you accomplish goals you will feel successful and your confidence will grow.

Practice relaxation.

Playing while rigid or anticipating pain/injury is dangerous and will lead to re-injury. Also, tensions in the injured area can increase pain and work against the effectiveness of rehab.

Ultimately, the decision to continue to skate following an injury is each individual’s personal decision. Every skater has to do their own cost/benefit analysis. Is what you get out of playing roller derby worth the risk of injury? Whether it’s the thrill of competition, the fitness, the rollergirl status, whatever… those who go back decide that the payoff is worth it for them.

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  • Samantha Dorsey

    I broke my right ankle (fibula) in August and gave myself until Nov 1st to get back to practice. Reading this definitely helps me feel a little more confident in reaching my goal for our first bout of the season in January. I’m going to practice as much as possible and trying to stretch and rehabilitate my ankle also. I’ve been doing strength training at the gym before I got back on skates which helped me feel less scared getting back into derby!

  • PestoBaba

    I broke my right fibula and dislocated my tibia in the ankle, tore several ligaments and ripped the syndesmosis to shreds back in February. Had 8 screws and a plate put in. Have had a lot of problems with my ankle after the initial injury and have been told I can never skate again, and the docs are not sure I´ll ever walk right again either. This article nailed everything I´m feeling. It is hard and sad and scary, and a lot of the time very lonely. Very nice to hear that it is normal to feel this way and that I´m not alone.

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