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How do you talk to an injured athlete? The answer is counter-intuitive

Written by Accredited Sports Professionals   Posted in:Opinion   August 15, 2014

How do you talk to an injured athlete? The answer is counter-intuitive  article image
Earlier this week, I got a call from an athlete who explained in a feeble tone: ‘the funeral procession has just begun in my mind; I’m not sure how long it will be this time round”. This was the athlete’s way of explaining that she was injured again and the prognosis was indeterminable at this stage. I felt she was searching for hope and reassurance especially because of her previous injuries but I thought it best to be quiet and listen for now. She spoke some more, perhaps before I got the chance to say “everything will be alright and you’ll be back in no time at all”; perhaps before I had time to engage my professional training. I wanted to reassure her because I was feeling responsible in some way and I also felt her anguish and hopelessness.
           
I encouraged her to speak without preventing the flow she had begun. I simply tried to understand what it felt like for her right here, right now. I don’t think I even asked her one question in the 30 minutes we spoke on the phone. Toward the end of the conversation, she startled me when she said: “When I think back about what I’ve just been talking about I can see how sensible your advice is about coping with my injury. I know I have the skills to cope and I look forward to the challenge of recovering one day at a time”.  Why was I startled? Simply because I hadn’t said anything; I certainly had not given her any advice. But I guess what she said sounded like it should have come from me rather than her. She had internalized how to be a good coach to herself. She had learned to help herself in a kind and supportive manner. We arranged to meet again after she had seen her podiatrist and physiotherapist to establish her recovery plans.