From Gloom to Glory: Athletes Using Injuries as Motivation

Photo Credit: Victoria Heaphy

One wrong move and your season is permanently changed. This has been the case for countless high school athletes who have experienced injuries from sports. Regardless of this seeming catastrophe, numerous high school athletes have successfully been able to overcome their injuries and use them as motivation to work hard and return to their prime condition.

Most severe injuries commonly occur in intense, high impact sports, such as football and hockey, while less physical sports, like baseball or track, have a higher number of injuries that may be less serious. Such injuries include sprained ankles, shoulder pain, knee injuries (torn meniscus or ACL), and concussions. EHHS’ athletic trainer, Mr. Mark Aceto, mainly attributes these injuries to overuse due to inadequate preseason training, not seeking help early, and pre and post game treatments such as stretching, icing, and heating. Mr. Aceto believes that when faced with an injury, high school athletes tend to seek short term remedies that simply mask the injury they are experiencing. “High schoolers think they're invincible; they think, ‘It can't happen to me, or it will go away the next day,” he said. Athletes nowadays are the “here and now” generation; if they want something, they can obtain it quickly. Young high school athletes don’t realize that sometimes injuries take time to heal; they push themselves too hard by continuing to play their sport, which causes the overuse injuries Aceto frequently sees. Thus, frustration sets in, and athletes begin to feel angered and in denial.

In spite of this, Mr. Andrew McIsaac, PT, DPT, of Gaylord Physical Therapy in North Haven, CT, explains how injury recovery can allow players time to improve their athletic skills. “PT and rehab may actually cause a player to return to sport with an increased capacity for activity or speed in comparison to prior to their injury,” he shared. “We often focus on rehab of not only the involved tissues, but sport specific movements which may be appropriate to join segments that work together (called synergists)... By sustaining an injury, athletes may actually be able to identify problems in their swing, throw, or kick. In turn, this can lead to increased performance on the field once appropriate return has been sustained.”

Athletes here at EHHS have been able to use their injuries as self motivation. Alexis Pendziwater, senior captain of the EHHS girl’s basketball team and golf team, has faced several injuries in her athletic career. Though, her numerous recoveries from these injuries have shaped her into the athlete she currently is. Alexis views an injury as a possible way to improve athletic performance and mindset - they pushed her to be better than she previously was. “I thought I needed to bounce back and be the player I was, but more improved.” Alexis’s healed injuries gave her a sense of rejuvenation, which made her feel more capable of producing her peak athletic performance. Similarly, senior captain of the EHHS football team, Tanner DiVito, has faced numerous injuries throughout the course of his athletic career. He also feels that experiencing injuries has motivated him to strengthen and condition himself to become a better athlete than he was before. “When I get back… I can lift...and get back to where I was, or even better… It motivates me to just get better and get stronger.” Tanner’s injury has encouraged him to improve himself and be in the best shape possible for when he returns to playing.

EHHS football coach, Mr. Scott Benoit, has seen many of his players face injuries throughout his coaching career. He explains that athletes are motivated to recover from injuries due to their strong desire to return to playing once again. Mr. Benoit claims, “If a kid is invested in the sport, invested in the team, and he misses time, he comes back with a vengeance to make up that missed time.” No dedicated athlete wants to miss out on time that could be filled by playing their sport. Injured athletes feel an internal drive to return to the game and obtain success both individually and as a team.

Mr. Aceto explains that in order for one to successfully recover from an injury, both mentally and physically, they must have confidence and a sense of heart. He explains that returning injured athletes, “Have to have confidence to come back and play… confidence to go out there and do it, and once you come out, you feel like you were never injured.” This confidence is derived from athletes’ motivation to regain their prime condition after an injury. This mental strength is key to a successful recovery. Mr. McIsaac also adds that athletes must be patient throughout their recovery. They must abide by the recommendations of the medical professionals because if not, athletes often will end up in a chronic rehab loop, reinjuring themselves.

However, it can be difficult for injured athletes to seek optimism in the barrier preventing them from doing something they love. Mr. McIsaac expounds on this idea, saying, “They [athletes] have generally been able to rely on their own body, and because they are hurt, they may feel frustrated and discouraged. Most athletes with a prolonged recovery before return to sport may feel like they will never regain their prior level of function. Often times, this is concurrent with a feeling of insecurity and feeling like they are not sure how to proceed.” Both Alexis and Tanner can agree with Mr. McIsaac in terms of their mental states; they believed that their athletic performances suffered as a result of their injuries and thus filled themselves with doubt and apprehension. “You don't feel the same, you’re not as confident, and you question yourself a lot,” says Tanner. Despite this conflict, however, these athletes were able to remain positive during their injuries, primarily by focusing on other things. Alexis additionally mentioned that she saw other athletes recover from the same injury she faced and found herself thinking, “If they can bounce back, I can too.”

Injuries are especially common in high school athletes. They can be detrimental to the athlete, both mentally and physically, though many athletes turn this adversity into motivation to strengthen their minds and bodies for the season ahead.