REBOUND: Bouncing back stronger from injury

REBOUND: Bouncing back stronger from injury


By Greg Bach

One of the greatest challenges young athletes face is being sidelined by a dreaded injury and navigating all the mental obstacles that arise on the path to recovery.

“At a time when an athlete needs the most emotional support they are often getting the least,” says Carrie Jackson Cheadle, a renowned mental skills expert and co-author with Cindy Kuzma of REBOUND: Train your mind to bounce back stronger from sports injuries. “If you are privileged enough to call yourself an athlete for long enough, at some point you are probably going to be dealing with an injury.”

No matter the sport, all athletes encounter injuries at some point in their participation, everything from minor aches and strains to those of a much more serious nature.

How athletes mentally approach their recovery process, and the help they receive along the way, can make the difference between returning stronger and more confident than ever, or struggling to get back in the flow.

REBOUND features more than 40 mental skills and drills that athletes can use at every phase of their recovery process. Plus, the book is filled with scientific research and personal insights from athletes sharing how they returned to action mentally stronger.

“If you ask any athlete who has been through it, they will tell you definitively there is mental recovery that happens as well,” Cheadle says.

We caught up with Cheadle, nationally known for her expertise in sports performance and psychological recovery from injury, to get some of her insights on managing that all-important mental side of injury. Check out what she shared:

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the key message you want readers to take away?

CHEADLE: One is recognizing that the mental piece is important for your recovery and that it’s worth addressing both your mental and physical recovery in order to get through that process. The other big piece for me is that you are not alone. Being injured is very isolating for an athlete and one of the reasons I wanted to do the book is that it feels like you are alone, but you’re really not. And that you are still an athlete. Even though you’re not able to do the sport that you love that doesn’t mean that you’re not an athlete. It’s a big thing that a lot of athletes struggle with is their feeling that there’s a loss to their athletic identity. You’re still an athlete but now your sport is your recovery and all of the energy and time and effort that went into training and competition now goes into recovery, and that this is a common part of an athletic journey.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Many injured athletes feel a sense of guilt that they have let their teams down, so what can be done to help them overcome those feelings?   

CHEADLE: One of the things that happens when you are sidelined is you really feel like you are cast aside until you are capable of contributing to the team again. I don’t think coaches are doing it on purpose – they have a lot going on and they are trying to take care of a lot of different people – but oftentimes the athlete will feel like their coach doesn’t care about them unless they are physically capable of contributing to the team. So for coaches it’s thinking about different ways you can include them in the process, like having a meeting with them and checking in on how their recovery process is going. Coaches need to make sure that when an athlete tells them that they are feeling pain that you believe them. That is a big one that a lot of athletes struggle with is the perception that their coaches or teammates don’t believe them, especially if they have an injury where there isn’t a cast or a brace or that external visual that lets someone know you are injured. A lot of times athletes will feel pressured to do things that they aren’t ready for and part of that is because they want to contribute to the team.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: While researching your book you spoke with a lot of high-level athletes. Was there a common theme that emerged from how they handled their injuries that could help younger athletes dealing with their injuries?

CHEADLE: It’s the same message, and they might say it a little bit differently, but it’s ‘I wouldn’t want to go through this again and I would never wish this on anybody but I am so grateful for the experience because it has made me a better athlete; or it has opened up this door that never would have been open to me,’ or some other avenue that they ended up exploring because of it. It is possible to actually feel grateful for this and be able to experience stress-related growth as a result of going through this experience. Hearing that from other athletes might make the early experience less traumatic because they can see that has been the experience of other people and to me that’s a really significant piece.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: How valuable are using pep talks when dealing with an injury?

CHEADLE: Pain is so complex and everybody’s tolerance is different for many different reasons and there are some psychological pieces to it. Part of it is your internal dialogue and part is your physiological response. Breathing is a big one. Because when you hold your breath it can intensify the pain that you feel because holding your breath is the message to your brain that you are under duress. It can start your stress response and your fight or flight response. And then kind of talking yourself through it. ‘You’ve got this,’ ‘it’s not going to hurt forever’ so you’re also letting your brain know that you can handle this. And this is the question that so many athletes struggle with: What is the difference between pain I need to pay attention to and pain that is just a normal part of this process and it doesn’t mean I’m doing further harm? So also making sure that athletes are asking their trainer or whomever you are working with how do I know what’s normal pain and pain that I need to pay attention to. It’s about priming your brain for knowing that it hurts right now but that doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt forever and I can handle this.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Why is it important for injured athletes to acknowledge their emotions rather than bury them?

CHEADLE: It’s a challenge in our culture of being ok with our feelings and moving toward them instead of away from them, and it’s a hard thing to do when it’s not something you’ve practiced but it’s so important. If I’m working with an injured athletes’ support group, I’ll have them brainstorm all the different emotions that they are going to feel throughout this process from the onset of the injury to getting back in the sport. And we can cover a giant whiteboard with all the different emotions, and sometimes they are going to be feeling 10 of them in one day. It is an emotional roller coaster and in order to get through to a place of acceptance so that you can focus on what you need to do for your recovery you have to allow yourself to feel all of the feelings that are coming up and not be afraid of them and not fight against them, because when you do that it does prolong that process. It’s an important part of the process and an important stress management tool. There’s something about bringing the actual feelings to the surface so you can examine them and look at it and in a way that takes away its power – it’s not as scary anymore. It’s like calling out the elephant in the room – it sounds like such a simple thing but it’s one of the hardest things to do for some athletes.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: All the tools you share in your book seem like they would be equally useful for athletes once they return from injury and resume competing.

CHEADLE: One of the coolest parts is people are able to use all these same tools once they are back performing. Many of them will say it’s one of the things they gained from it is they are mentally stronger and such a better athlete now from it and come back to have their best seasons ever. It’s exciting to see that they have built these tools and are able to continue to use them to their benefit.

REBOUND is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target Books. Carrie Jackson Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma also host The Injured Athletes Club podcast and provide support and resources for young athletes through their Injured Athletes Club Facebook page. You can follow Cheadle on Instagram @feedtheathlete and on Twitter at @FeedtheAthlete.

Injury Recovery Mindset Health Rebound

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