This is the book and the community that I had been looking for. And I would recommend that if you know an injured athlete, then this book is probably the best gift that you could give them.
I came across it when I was listening to one of the podcast series that I often listen to and heard it mentioned: ‘Rebound: Train your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger from Sports Injuries’ by Carrie Jackson Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma. As well as reading it cover to cover, and going back through it over and over, I also discovered the Podcast series and the Facebook page under the title of ‘The Injured Athletes Club’.
The book has
forty-nine mental drills that map against fifteen key mental skills that you
can build to aid recovery from injury. It is built from real experience helping
athletes through successful rehabilitation from injury – and the core belief
that one can rebound from injury.
narratives describing athletes’ journeys through injury, including the key inflection points
Scientific explanations of the underlying psychology
Key points to take away and work on
Specific mental drills that you can incorporate into your recovery
the community is the most important part
The book opens
with talking about the fact that you are not alone, and that with that pillar
in place – there is a path forward.
community allows for the stages of grieving – accepting and defusing the negative
emotions, finding the clarity and support for the steps needed for your
progress and then having a genuine cheerleading group to celebrate the simple,
baby-steps steps of progress towards your bigger goals.
really like about the book
What I really
like about the book is the fact that it is flexible and multi-faceted, so you
can keep coming at things from different angles and building up even as your situation
evolves and changes – whether that is progress or a slip backwards.
I hope that
it brings you or your friends support and strength when this is most needed.
Self-talk is known to be one of the most important parts of
mental strength. Athletes consistently use it (often together with
visualisation) to help with performance under pressure. My suggestion is that
it is just as important when you are injured and facing the challenges of
recovery and rehabilitation.
Are you wondering what is self-talk? I define it as the
voice in your head that chatters constantly, about all kinds of things and at
times can escalate to a full-on internal debate. But there is good evidence
that the mind takes these messages and images very seriously, driving changes
in the hormonal system and the nervous system which in turn have very significant
physical impacts (as well as changing your thought patterns going forward).
Affirmations or mantras are usually short, pithy phrases to
insert positive messages into the mind. I would also be remiss not to mention
that in the Hindu faith and yoga mantras are chanted, with specific mantras to
generate powerful sound waves that promote healing, and the relaxation from the
ancient practice of gong therapy or ‘sound bathing’.
This is something that many people write about. I especially
enjoyed Carole’s blog from 2014 where she talked about Dr Coue’s mantra (or
autosuggestion as he called it) where in conjunction with their medical
treatment, they would say over and over to themselves 20 times in the morning
and 20 times in the evening ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and
better’. Read more on this inspiring story from over 100 years ago, plus some
great tips and book recommendations in Carole’s blog:
What kind of mantras
When I was running ultramarathons and doing Ironman
triathlons, I used mantras a lot and found:
It needs to be positive. I had a spin teacher who used ‘mine is the power and the glory’ as a mantra, and I know that many people find these universally positive exhortations very useful– hence the Ironman slogan of ‘Impossible is Nothing’.
It needs to be realistic at that moment! For instance, telling myself ‘I love to run’ is true, but in the final stages of ultra-marathons or long-distance triathlons the voice on my shoulder would scream back ‘I don’t right now – I want to stop!’ so I would use simple exhortations like ‘run for home’ or ‘nice and steady’.
It is better when it is process-based. There are times in a long race where the final finish line seems too far away to engage with, and so process-based mantras worked better for me. This seems a strong parallel with the uncertainty on outcomes in recovery and rehabilitation. So just as I would focus on technique points in races like ‘keep my rhythm’, ‘nice and light’, which brings the benefits to keeping good technique at a time when tiredness can reduce form. In the same way in the tough part of recovery focus on the exercises, release work, nutrition, hydration and sleep patterns can reinforce the positive habits that will make a difference.
It is not helpful to set specific goals that you then miss. Whilst I have spent many races setting myself a challenge for the next split time, or the person that I would overtake, these are only useful when you hit the goal and then set the next goal. Missing them really can really drag you down, as it allows the internal critic to keep saying that today is not your day and you may as well just give up.
How do I apply that
to my recovery?
It is really useful to reaffirm your strengths and the
resilience that you bring to this situation: from the factual such as ‘we have
a good plan and next steps with the medical team’ or ‘we are focused & determined
and will get to the bottom of this’, ‘I have what I need to get through this’, ‘all
of this strength and conditioning will make me a better athlete’ to the more
aspirational ‘we will beat this’, ‘I’ll be back’, ‘my body is amazing’ and ‘I’ve
come through tough times before and I will again’.
Also to recognise all of the people on your side and rooting
for you: ‘I am in great hands’, ‘I am surrounded by love and support’, ‘I stand
shoulder-to-shoulder with my team’, ‘I am enveloping my body in love and
Reaffirming the sense of progress – even when it is too
small to see: ‘every day of careful nutrition and good sleep helps my body to
rebuild’, ‘little by little my body is healing itself’ and ‘every step towards
recovery helps me’, ‘cell by cell my body is rebuilding itself’.
Some people find perspective very useful – for example: ‘whilst
this is tough, people are facing much worse than this and getting through it’.
Some inspiring quotes
This link includes some inspiring quotes for injured
athletes that could be used as mantras:
How about choosing a favourite mantra and use it every day
for a week – repeat it under your breath over and over at key points in the day,
write it on a post-it and put it on the bathroom mirror or under your pillow,
close your eyes and smile gently as you visualise it… the mind is a powerful
Your body and mind are amazing – ‘Every day, in every way, you are getting better and better’
We all struggle to know that to say or do for someone who is
injured don’t we? So we often just simply avoid them and hope quietly that we
will see them back at the Club or in the training group really soon.
So I thought that I would write a note on 8 great things to give to an injured athlete (beyond a card and a bunch of flowers!) to help them:
COMPANY – whether you go and visit them, or invite
them to a meal or drink or something that they can do, this is a game-changer!
The most crushing part of injury is that suddenly everything stops and the
loneliness can be overwhelming. And interestingly, there is evidence that
social inclusion can actually reduce the amount of physical pain experienced!
(If you are interested in the science of this, check out the site
retrainpain.org and the section on relationships at the bottom of the page)
CONTACT – when someone is out for a long time, a regular call, text or
message asking genuinely how they are and listening without getting
disheartened if it is not good news, or noticing and celebrating progress with
them, is a lifeline. It is just a couple of minutes in your day, but may be the
only inter-personal contact in their day.
ADVICE OR STORIES OF FRIENDS WITH THE SAME AILMENT! – the injured athlete
will be getting a ton of advice (and sometimes conflicting and confusing advice)
from the various medical parties involved in their treatment. Plus they will be
spending every waking moment of the day and sleepless nights, searching the
internet, YouTube and social media for advice and experiences. Adding more can
feel overwhelming, and can create a sense of frustration or embarrassment about
talking with you again. A kind and supportive listening ear is so much more
TO DISTRACT THEM – a book, a podcast link, a colouring book and pens,
magazines. Suddenly the injured athlete will have a ton of time on their hands
and an inability to move much, so these are great!
OILS/CANDLES AND BATH SALTS – if all they can do is lie flat, essential oil
burners and candles can be really nice and calming. And if they are well enough
to get into the bath, then nurturing salts etc can be great. A lot of athletes
have always run through the shower in the shortest possible time, trying to get
onto the next thing – so getting them something that encourages them to slow
down is great! And for many muscular issues the mineral salts that are absorbed
through the skin are helpful additions to the minerals in the diet.
– when you are injured, preparing a meal can be so hard. So a pie or a pot dish
that someone brings round is such a support (and avoids all of that worry about
weight-gain associated with eating too many chocolates or cake or alcohol when
you cannot do any exercise).
WITH A CUSHION TO EAT MEALS ON YOUR LAP – when getting out of bed or
getting to the table to eat are just too challenging, this is so useful!
Together with enough of the right shaped cushions to be able to get into a comfortable
WHEAT-BAG OR HOT WATER BOTTLE OR REFRESSABLE ICE PACK – depending on
whether their injury responds best to heat or cold, having these to hand is
such a help (and often medical professionals do not mention them).
When you are injured, the level of incapacity can be overwhelming. Here are my top ten tips of things that you can do to help yourself:
– get your groceries & goods delivered and your banking & services
online. Whilst you may not have had the time previously to set this up, it
is so easy, and when you are injured, you are home all of the time for things
to be delivered!
nutritious prepared meals. When every movement is an agony and being on
your feet is hard – find the meals that just need putting in the oven and
are really struggling, ask someone for help. A lot of your friends will
want to help, but be unsure what they can do. So call them up and ask if one or
a group of them can help with cooking a few meals and freezing them, or coming
in and stacking the dishwasher every couple of days, walking the dog, taking
the kids to school, or whatever that task is.
cannot bath or shower, can you get to the leisure centre? Most leisure
centres have a shower block which does not involve any steps, and a shower with
a seat. So if you can borrow a wheelchair, or get in there with your crutches,
you can have a much safer shower than in your own bathroom (which probably has
a ton of accessibility challenges). PS – if there are wounds that you really
need to keep dry, clingfilm around the area does not work, as the water just
goes behind it! You will need to get a large enough waterproof dressing. I
found that our local independent pharmacy were really expert on wound dressing
and management (so worth phoning around to find who can help you once you are
out of hospital).
call-barring for nuisance calls. You will have your phone right next to you
as you try to get the appointments that you need and talk with the experts on
your injury, but nuisance calls are wearing!
family member do the medical appointments for you? One of the most
debilitating things is that there are a ton of phone calls, documents and
follow-up with the medical profession. When you are out of it on pain
medication, this is close to beyond you! If someone can do this for you, it
will be a huge help!
pad on hand and write lists and notes. When you are drifting in and out of
shallow sleep, and have taken lots of painkillers, you really struggle to keep
on top of things. So just write things down – including things that are
worrying you, how you are going to talk with the Doctor tomorrow, things that
need to get done etc.
sticker on the door to stop cold callers. You may be happy to struggle to
the door for the thoughtful parcel or flowers from friends, but the cold caller
is truly frustrating. You can get the sticker from your local police,
Neighbourhood Watch or Trading Standards.
etc will all come to you. Whilst you will have been used to rushing around
and doing your chores on the run between other things, there are ways that
almost everything can come to you.
I really hope that these make you feel less alone in facing
the challenges associated with your injury. You will come through this and
there are people and mechanisms there to help, if you can track them down.
If you have met Alex Danson MBE (gold medallist with the GB
Hockey squad and since then the Captain of the England and GB Hockey teams),
you will know her massive heart, her infectious smile and her complete passion
for sport and team sport – and hockey especially.
It is so hard to see someone like Alex literally knocked out
by the impact of concussion. But her courage in being searingly honest about
how hard it is will be a lifeline to others who are injured. I also really hope
that it will also be a lifeline to her with the massive outpouring of support
for her on social media yesterday, and hopefully going forward in the coming
weeks and months.
“One of the hardest parts in all
of this, aside from the physical trauma, has been losing my identity,” she
wrote. “Going from leading my country, aspiring to qualify for the Tokyo
Olympics to just trying to get through a day.
“Head injuries are serious, debilitating and
lonely. When I have days when I feel well enough I will document some of my
recovery. I’ve not been well enough to up to now and I’ve not been sure whether
it’s something I wanted to do.”
They capture so brilliantly the complete stop that comes with an accident and injury, and the new mental framework that you have to build. And Alex’s commitment to make meaning out of this brutal, difficult and unfair injury by documenting her learnings and recovery to help others is totally inspirational.
Concussion is a very serious injury and many sports have now linked together to share the best knowledge. I am not an expert, but I would say that the Birmingham Sports Clinic is open to professional and amateur athletes over 16 years old, from all geographic areas. Instructions and how to get referred can be found here: https://www.uhb.nhs.uk/birmingham-sport-concussion-clinic.htm
Very best of luck for your recovery Alex. We are all rooting for you.