Last year we witnessed Adrian Peterson make an unbelievably fast and successful recovery from an ACL injury, and it appears as though Red Skins star quarterback Robert Griffin III is about to do the same thing this fall. In baseball, there have been too many players to name who have successfully come back from Tommy John surgery and go on to resume their athletic careers (even though those same injuries just a few years ago were almost always career-ending injuries). Is this a sign of better medical surgeries and procedures? Or are we seeing increasingly more mentally tough athletes motivated to rehabilitate and quickly play again (after all, the fame and money associated with sports is bigger than ever)? Sport psychologists would likely argue the answer is probably a little of both.
What, if any, impact does this incredibly fast injury rehabilitation experienced by Peterson (and soon RGIII) have on young athletes suffering from injuries of their own? Are we entering an era where youth athletes are feeling similar pressures to quickly get on the field again (like their heroes are now expected to do), as well as resort to any and all pain management techniques to help along recovery? When kids see how much criticism Chicago Bulls All Star Derrick Rose is currently receiving for not playing right now, do you think this has an impact on the way they might view their own injury rehabilitation process?
Student athletes, like their adult athlete counterparts, also feel pressure to quickly play again — even if this is experienced on a much smaller scale. Still, it should be noted that more student athletes are turning to various prescription pain medications to help in the rehabilitation effort, casting light on the lengths some kids will go in order to respond to the pressures (their own, and sometimes the team and even community) to get on the field again.
It is important for coaches and parents involved in youth sports to have both realistic expectations about sports injuries, as well as make sure to pay attention to the measures student athletes take in order to manage pain along the way.
Student athletes most at-risk for additional dangers during rehabilitation include:
- Student athletes with a high degree of Athletic Identity – meaning they base most, if not all, of their self-worth on being an athlete
- Student athletes who aspire to one day play college or professional sports and feel as though an injury might impede their progress toward their future goals
- Student athletes who experience a lot of pressure to quickly play again (from coaches, teammates, and even the community at-large)
- Student athletes who think of themselves as invincible, often citing athletes like Peterson and Griffin (the exceptions, not the norm) when it comes to how quickly they recovered from their injuries
Advances in medicine are great, but student athletes who go to extreme measures to speed up the normal time needed for injury recovery may be doing themselves more harm than good with this thinking. Be sure to do your part by talking to kids about safe and responsible ways to rehabilitate from injuries so that they can do it safely — and thereby extend their athletic careers as a result.
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