Pain Management Guide For Athletes: By Coach Matt June

Coach Matt was a multisport athlete at Colonie High School in Albany, NY. He played Football, Basketball, Track, and Baseball. In college Matt studied Kinesiology and played second base for SUNY Cortland. He was a four year starter and two time captain.  He has some really good insight into pain management as an athlete. In this article goes into detail on how he believes there is a difference between discomfort and injury. Coach Matt states how discomfort is a part of sport and if he only participated when he felt 100%, he would have missed out on many opportunities to play.

The science of pain is not entirely understood. Regardless of how much research is done in the area, we’ve had trouble quantifying pain as something that is consistent across the human population. While pain manifests itself in the physical body, no two people experience it in the same way. This leads professionals to believe that much of pain management is associated with the mind. This is a theory that could potentially explain why some people experience identical dysfunction in completely different ways; and why some people may be able to play through certain discomfort that others can not.

Looking back, I have a very unique perspective on playing through some of my injuries. If I knew what I knew then… what I know now… I may not have played through certain things. However, being raised the way I was, pain was never automatically perceived as a threat. Growing up I was taught that pain was a part of sport. It was certainly not glorified, but it was simply part of the game. Only 2% of all college students have the opportunity to call themselves an NCAA athlete. Along with much of the hard work and time necessary to developing skills, often times one must pay the price of being in pain to consider themselves an athlete. As an athlete, as far as I was concerned pain is just part of the game.

Understanding the difference between discomfort and injury is a very important tool I used throughout my career. As a coach, I am a witness to a lot of athletes who are very quick to perceive their pain as an injury. We play sports in an era where athletes have tremendous ease of access to imaging technology, and therefore have a heightened focus on their internal structures which can create heightened symptomatology. No matter the athlete, we all have some degree of internal fear of injury. We identify with our sports and even just the fear of losing it due to injury can be debilitating in itself. In my experience, sometimes the more you know, the worse your symptoms. In college I remember having a relatively painful groin pull. While it was definitely a nagging injury, my approach was taking it day to day, rather than rushing to seek an immediate conclusion. If I only took the field when I was feeling 100%, I would never had the opportunity to play.

My advice to athletes is to always have the right healthcare resources available, however don’t be so quick to perceive your discomfort as an injury. Pain is a part of sports. It is incredibly important to check in with your body often, observing how you feel on a day to day basis. Understand that sports are taxing on the human body and each day you may feel different, but don’t be quick to judge it as an injury. At the beginning of the season you may feel 100%. It is very important to not believe this will be the case for the remainder of the season and therefore, check into your body regularly.

THIRD PLACE

Many of us have come to know Athletes Warehouse as a sanctuary. Whatever your reason for coming, it’s safe to say that many of our athletes find assurance and safety coming through the doors. By allowing our athletes to feel such a level of comfort, we maximize what we get out of them. We break down the barriers pertaining to the stress of beginning off-season training for the first time, or potentially the last time. No matter what stage of an athlete’s career, this facility has become more than just a gym to so many. It has become a “third place.”

A third place refers to a third area in the student athlete’s life where they will find sanctuary. Creating such a sanctuary where athletes can come to improve themselves in so many different facets of life is an incredible way to maximize the potential of a young individual.

I have essentially grown up in Athletes Warehouse. As first an athlete and now as a coach. This facility has become a home to me. I can remember as an athlete, coming home from college, my first stop was my house to drop my bags off, my next stop was Athletes Warehouse for a training session. The coaches here became role models to me. I looked up to Nick, Matt, and Cassie. As a coach, it is my responsibility to create this environment for every athlete that walks into our building because I can reflect on how powerful an impact this facility had on my life.

When an athlete feels as though the training environment is their third place, it creates a motivation that is so purely intrinsic in the athlete. I am incredibly grateful that I had the ability to experience this as an athlete. It has given me a totally different perspective on how I treat my athletes to this day. Each athlete may have severely different reasons for training. Each athlete may have a different motivation for coming and some may even find trouble motivating themselves to walk in the building. Regardless, the team of coaches here at Athletes Warehouse have this incredible ability of making every athlete feel at home in the facility. I have experienced this, felt it change me as an athlete, and seen it change athletes each day as they come through the building.

In a society of sports that is so hierarchical where we program our athletes to respond to authority, it is so refreshing to be in an environment where a young athlete responds to a figure they truly trust and respect, rather than fear. Know that everyday the athlete walks in the building, a coach is greeting them with the utmost effort of developing a true and honest relationship with them. This is what creates a “third place”, a “safe haven”, a “second home”, for the athlete. This is merely one of the reasons that makes athletes warehouse special and why we will continue to produce phenomenal athletes.

Stay Strong,

Coach Jack

RETURNING FROM INJURY

Fear had very rarely been a term I would have ever used when it came to playing sports. I loved them, had a passion for them; they became a safe haven for me as I got older. Between softball and basketball, I felt fearless while playing – like nothing could touch me. It created a sense of exhilaration that only those who played would truly understand. Hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down or making the crazy, incredible play would have me feeling on top of the world. When I got to play college softball, that feeling was only exaggerated. The feeling of having a crowd of over 1,000 people cheering for you is incredible. Fear would have been the last word in my repertoire in this moment.

Fast-forward to my senior year. I was recovering from my second shoulder surgery with a small likelihood of ever being the same player I was before them.

Fearful was the only word I could think of to describe how I felt.  

For as long as I can remember, I had always been gifted with an exceptional arm. I started as a baseball pitcher and then slowly transferred into the sport of softball, around age 13, where I became a shortstop and catcher. If you ask any coach of mine, they would agree with the statement that I was not gifted with the power of speed (even if I felt like I was). Because of this, I was not always thought to have potential as a shortstop until a coach saw my arm strength. I was able to adapt to my lack of speed with deeper angles because I had the arm strength to make the play deep in the whole. When I got to college, throwing off my back foot or on the run became my staple play as the speed of the game was ridiculous. My arm strength became my safety mechanism.

The First Hurdle

After my shoulder labral repair surgery, I remember looking up the statistics on throwing velocity post surgery (probably not the smartest decision for anyone in this situation). Some of the studies said the athlete would only get 80% of their velocity back. 80 PERCENT! I felt defeated before I even started the rehabilitation process. While in the process of my throwing program, I had a moment of clarity with my assistant coach, Jessica Moore. I had begun the section of throwing a softball from 90 feet and I thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world – mind you, in order to complete the program I had to throw from 150 feet. It had been so long that I was struggling to understand how far 90 feet was. She set me up like I was throwing down on a steal to second base and I went after the first throw – it flew over her head. Now, for anyone who knows Coach Jess, she is quite sarcastic. I will never forget the stare she gave me with the, “and you were freaking out for what, Boyle?” look. I thought that was it; I thought I had gotten over my major mental hurdle coming back from an injury. Then came February 9th….

February 9th

Game Day. First game back. Emotions are running high with excitement as the season is about to kick off. This team gets to start to define what they are about today. We go through warm-ups and batting practice then go back to the locker room to get ready. Down to the field, we walk and the nerves start to set in. What if my arm gives out again? What if the anchors don’t hold? It’s my senior year. I can’t go through this again.

Luckily, I run into Dr. Lee, our Behavioral Health Coordinator at USF. I have been working with him throughout the entire injury recovery process and at that moment, I knew I was beginning to freak out with fear and needed help to calm down.

“Cassidy, take it pitch by pitch and just breathe. You got this.”

First inning. No ground balls – awesome, we can do this. Second inning – pop up, great we are okay.

Third inning. Ground ball bouncing over the pitcher’s head. Bare-hand, throw on the run. No pop. No pain. The umpire calls out and a smile erupts across my face, my coaches faces, my teammate’s faces. I was back, in Cassidy Boyle fashion. But the true test was still to come. Two more innings pass. Ground ball in the 5-6 hole. Backhand, throw off the back foot. It was the moment we all were worried about; we didn’t know what was about to happen. An absolute cannon across the diamond and the girl is out by a step. WITH NO PAIN. Last out of the inning.

Moments.

There are moments in our career that we never forget. This was one of mine. It was the realization that not only my effort but the help and aid of those around me all paid off. I trotted off the field and was swarmed in a hug by my head coach, Ken Eriksen. My teammates were all around me in excitement because we had just gotten out of a huge inning. Amidst this, I looked into the crowd to find my dad. Grinning ear to ear, with his quivering lip of love and relief, I gave him the thumbs up sign that he always looked for when watching the games the past 4 years. I walk into the dugout, finishing up the high fives, and put my glove down and just took in the moment. I turned around to find my best friend just standing there. We didn’t say anything, just a quick hug with enough understanding that no words were necessary. Fear was no longer in my mind but instead family. These people went through my journey with me. They were there for the good days and the bad ones. They pushed me to get back on the field and made me want to be out there with them again.

You see, I was lucky. I was lucky to be at a University that understands the importance of Student-Athlete Mental Health enough to have a Behavioral Health Coordinator in the department. Lucky enough to have a coaching staff that allowed him, the team doctor, and Sports Medicine Staff in our dugout for moments like February 9th. We are all under the presumption that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. That 90% is way too important not to take care of. Dr. Lee is one of the most influential individuals in our Athletic Department. Without him, this moment may not have occurred. Returning from an injury is almost all mental. The mental battle needs to start during the physical recovery, but it doesn’t stop when we get cleared physically. In fact, that is when that battle revs its engine. It is one thing to practice post injury where you always have in the back of your head that you aren’t ready to go all out yet; it is another thing to play in a game where you are going all out to the point where there is no second thought of “what if.” I am so grateful to have had an individual during my process dedicate a portion of their time specifically to this aspect of injury recovery.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

STRENGTH FOR THE AREA BETWEEN THE EARS

Before we start, I want to encourage every single one of you to keep reading. Even when it seems like this is just “another one of those articles” or it seems like it just doesn’t pertain to you. This topic is one that we must continue to talk about even when it is hard or doesn’t feel like it applies to us.

In the past six months, the mental health initiative throughout the athletic community, and pretty much the human community, has exploded. There is a mix of compassion and empathy as well as misunderstandings and negative attitudes. With this being said, the athletic community finds themselves in a polar divide as strong as the current state of political affairs. Many find themselves in the ideal of being the strong individual who only needs to rely on themselves or the “expressing how they feel is weakness.” This mindset has developed by generational transference through the athletic community. Passed down from mentor to mentee and the persona we place amongst athletes that they are indeed that – an athlete. They are the best of the best, the strongest of the strong, the greatest creation of human evolution. Survival of the fittest with the elite athlete being comprised of every human’s ideal form. Yet, at the end of the day, we forget one simple fact – they are human, just like me and you. We, as a human society misconstrued emotional strength for physical strength. Emotional strength is not the ability to handle everything on our own but instead the ability to understand what we can and cannot do by ourselves and the courage to ask for help when we cannot.

Me, Personally

I want to pause here for a little anecdotal information. In my 22 years of life, I have found myself living most of it from the area in which I felt I did not need another individuals help, in anything. I felt that being strong meant keeping everything locked up and handling it myself, or in some cases, lock it up and throw away the key. When I got to college, this internal process of mine was exacerbated, even though the personal stressors were piling up between the school, softball and social aspects of my life. It was suggested by a coach and two close friends that I seek out our Behavioral Health Coordinator, Dr. Lee Dorpfeld, for a chat. I remember thinking, “HA, that will never happen. I don’t need a psychologist.” For the next two and a half years, he and I played, what he calls, a game of cat and mouse. I would come in one day and then disappear from his office for four to six months. I would see him around our athletic facility and we would always chat or have a conversation but I avoided his portion of the facility with the same determination as a softball player attempting to avoid a slump. (You can see where this is heading.) Now, I am probably one of the slowest shortstops to ever have played Division I softball. It was joked that if you wanted to make me run fast, just put Dr. Lee at the opposite place you wanted me to run. You see, I fell into the misconception that we all have – the “ist” phenomena. Psychologist, dermatologist, orthodontist, therapist, etc. We often feel that professions ending in “ist” are all related to fixing someone.

It wasn’t until I sustained the first of my two major injuries that I started going to talk to Dr. Lee on a more “consistent” basis (I place the quotations because it wasn’t really that consistent but it was more often than four to six months). I began to realize how much less stressed I was because I had someone to talk through my stressors, uncomforts, and fears relating to my injury process. Slowly and surely that started to transition into topics regarding graduate school and relationships with others. My natural tendencies to “lock up” into self-protection mode slowly began to dissipate. I was starting to have real relationships and great friendships with people who mean a lot to me. My ability on the field finally came to full fruition as well. I was able to remain focused and locked in. Simply put, I felt lighter in everything I tried to do. No, sadly I did not get physically faster by releasing these personal loads but I was mentally faster. Understand this, I didn’t have to be “fixed” or wasn’t diagnosed with a condition as everyone fears. But, I found a safe place to be vulnerable and release myself from unnecessary stress.

Start By Changing Your Definition

You see, the ability to open up and discuss what is on your mind, whether good or bad, is “strength.” It is the understanding that we all need that person to talk to. Often, we lock athletes into this bubble that places them on a pedestal above the standards of the normal human. In actuality, their competitive profession places them in an area of high stress and personal demands. We need to re-educate the athletic community, starting with the youth athlete all the way to the professional, that asking for help or admitting your stressed isn’t weakness, it IS strength.

I’d like to emphasize another point – this doesn’t have to happen with a psychologist. It can be a friend, a coach or teammate, a mentor – anyone who you feel comfortable expressing yourself too. If you are fearful of the “ist” phenomena then I encourage you to find someone in your circle. It can be powerful to hear that someone feels the same as you, that you are not alone, as we most often are not. I look to another personal example that occurred with one of my closest friends.

Honestly, it happens quite frequently between the two of us so I cannot remember the context of the first one specifically but it went as most of them do. I was feeling quite overwhelmed with something softball wise and I blurted out during dinner, “can I ask you something?” She responded with “oh boy,” as she’s come to associate that question with something of grand context. I stated my point, as normally is not a question but a statement, to which she responded, “Cass, I feel the exact same way and I haven’t told anyone either.” It was a moment of mutual appreciation and understanding, as we both finally felt legitimized in our thinking. Now, I am not saying that this is always going to happen. Sometimes, you are going to open up and someone won’t feel the same way or understand it. That does not mean you hunker down and lock up – as with anything like athletics, there is going to be “failure.” But I want to reframe this thought as well; opening up and having someone not understand or feel the same isn’t a failure – it is just the process of human connection. Not one person is going to have the same sequence of events in their life as you but they will have general experiences similar to you; it is in this that the bond is created. We might not have the same exact feelings, but they will be close and possible to relate to – that is where you must find the comfort.

Why Athletes Warehouse

Athletes Warehouse is a prime example of changing this part of the athletic culture. We strive to challenge our athletes from a physical and mental perspective. We often incorporate mental skills training into most of our classes and large groups as we deem it as important as the physical skill set we can provide. We thrive on relatability – as all of our staff consists of former collegiate athletes which is effective as I find there is a slight difference in the natural tendencies of an athlete. We strive to create a safe environment for our athletes to challenge themselves and test their limits. We encourage open communication and discussion amongst staff and through the coach-athlete relationship.

I encourage any athlete, coach, or head of an organization reading this to let this message sink in. We are all human, so why don’t we allow athletes to act like it? Change doesn’t occur overnight. It takes one person impacting another and then another and this cycling continuing over and over to perpetuate change.

Let’s start now,

Cassidy

WHAT COACH CASSIE IS LEARNING ABOUT THIS WEEK

As a performance coach, we focus so much on how our athletes move yet we don’t always get an opportunity to observe how the athlete responds to game-like stimuli. Due to this, I was provoked to dive into this deeper when an athlete of mine had every athletic tool necessary to be successful in their sport yet when we incorporated a game-like scenario where she was required to respond to a visual stimulus, it appeared there was a delay in her motor response. Too much time was taken to make a decision on how to move instead of relying on athleticism and instead of reacting. This made me feel like we as coaches may be missing a major piece to our athlete’s development. So much of my passion for this topic comes from my personal experience as an athlete. I have first hand experienced a ball looking as if it is moving in slow motion and being able to interpret the spin. Did that happen because of something I did in training? Was it more of a psychological response and was I instead just in a state of flow? Would I have ever experienced that visual acuity had I not faced great pitchers at a young age? Is there a way to measure someone’s capability for pitch interpretation? I ask all of these questions because the follow-up question to all of this becomes, how much does developing proper swing mechanics ACTUALLY matter with an athlete?

Therefore, this week I decided to dive deeper into how an athlete responds to their environment. Here is some major information I have come across: 

-The most important aspect of movement = the way it is initiated.

-As an object approaches an athlete OR as athlete approaches an object, the image on the retina gets progressively larger.

-The rate of dilation of the image on the retina may be the trigger for specific motor responses to athletics.

-The best athletes have a sequence of focuses (in response to a hitter facing a pitcher): 1. Soft focus – viewing the whole body of the pitcher, 2. Fine focus: Viewing something specific in the plane of the ball release (ie. outfield wall), 3. Specific Fine Focus: Looking at the area of the release (hip for softball or arm slot for football).

-The attention process in fastball sports is limited by three factors of the athlete: 1. Amount of information in the display, 2. The time available to take in the required information, 3. The ability of the player to then respond to this intake.

-Higher performance players are able to process critical information earlier in the opponent’s action. Thus giving themselves the feeling of, ‘having all the time in the world’ to respond.

This concept applies to all athletes. You can be the most athletic person but if you try and play your sport with your eyes closed and your hearing impaired, you are going to be at a severe disadvantage. In order to be able to use our athleticism that we’ve developed over our lifetime, we must also be in the correct mindset but consciously and subconsciously to respond to our environment.

Coach Cassie

INVISIBLE MAN

It’s 5:00 a.m. the alarm is going off, the first opportunity of the day presents itself; do you hit snooze or do you get up and move to the next stage of your day?  

It’s this moment; it’s in these seconds, these seconds before rolling over to address this obnoxious noise permeating from whatever device you utilize to reminder to your body that the day is upon us, that we hear thousands of conscious thoughts battling for center stage.

Many of you will hear thoughts stemming from fatigue, complacency, or even doubt.  They shower you with demands (are you kidding it’s too early), deceptive cries of comfort (it’s totally normal to be exhausted) all pleading to stay in bed, to hit the snooze button.  They even may go as far as illuminating the doubt we all have inside in the hopes of evoking fear, confusion or worse, apathy.  

-OR-

Maybe your thoughts are proud and they speak to you with positivity (it’s going to be a great day), with motivation (we have a head start on the day).  Maybe they make you think of mentors, honorable people who you would like to emulate; or maybe they begin to make you feel good about sacrificing sleep (see the hour your up; this is why you will be successful) and maybe, just maybe the voices will work.

BUT FOR HOW LONG?

You see, often times we rely on external forces to motivate us.  These forces may be extremely visible and palpable, like motivational books and speeches, or maybe even this article.  Other times, they could be more subconscious and manifest themselves through emotional pathways such as envy, greed, or competitiveness as we begin to compare our success to that of others.  In turn, our motivation becomes drawn from our desires to prove to ourselves, to them, to anyone really, that we can live up to the mirage that is the life they have chosen to share with the world (Instagram).

While you may be moderately (or briefly) successful with these tactics, they will eventually succumb to the pitfalls of a relying on a weakened quality of motivation.  Change, growth, and consistency require a deep allegiance towards intrinsically powered motivation that can sustain in times of weakness and propel in times of success.

Many of you reading this are athletes, former athletes even, which means competition is not just something you do or did, but its something that is woven into the fibers with which define your purpose in life; YOU NEED IT.  Great, then let’s that! You see, the problem is not the competition itself, the need to be competitive, or even the motivation you get from this competition. The problem lies in who the competition is with.

Intrinsic, especially when related to motivation, means to internalize or pull from within.  Thus, to be a truly self-motivated individual, the competition must lie within yourself. Regardless of how competitive you are, external inducements will eventually result in a fractured form of motivation.  

Look at athletes who have won it all.  Why is it so hard to repeat that accomplishment?  Maybe because they have fewer naysayers, fewer doubters, and fewer people to prove themselves to. As a result, it becomes increasingly more difficult to continue working when your external forces have evaporated.  

The key is to internalize the competition and compete against THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Simply put, THE INVISIBLE MAN is your best version of yourself.  He’s the version of you that get’s up at 4:59 a.m., and stares at the alarm clock chuckling as he waits for it to hit 5:00 a.m. He jumped out of bed, went right to the shower and was out the door in record time. He moves through your task list (that was set from the night before) with precision and purpose.  He got that workout in, read the chapter you wanted to read, and got the work you needed done; done. THE INVISIBLE MAN is you in your most perfect form and your goal, heck your privilege, is that you get to test the limits of that perfection and beat his !@#$%&* ass.

Every time you start your day by getting up and stopping that alarm, it’s a win.  When you get in and out of the shower in a reasonable time, it’s a win. When you get out the door and head off to school, to work, to whatever task is first on your list, it’s a win.  The more wins you compile in a day the more productive and powerful your motivation, confidence, and ultimately you will become.

BUT WE CAN’T ALWAYS BEAT HIM, CAN WE?  

Yes, at times, you will lose to the invisible man. But vow to beat him the next time.  Frequent losses need to be addressed immediately and your processes adjusted promptly. It is important in these instances to ensure that your routines, goals, and motivations are accurately aligned with realistic possibilities.  

As a disclaimer, I am aware that I opted to not discuss how those experiencing complacency, apathy, or even lacking motivation, can utilize this tactic to help prioritize their focus and execute their plans.  I chose to do this because this tactic or ideal is something they need to work towards attempting, as they most likely need to begin some substantial goal setting, routine, prioritizing, and reflection guidance first.  Attempting to go zero to a hundred can create greater anxiety, fear, or apathy; however, all individuals can take pieces of this concept and begin applying it to even just their morning routine, as the underlying principle is self-accountability.

DEALING WITH AN INJURY

Being injured isn’t easy. Ask any player, in any sport, who has dealt with an injury and they will probably all respond the same: It is one of the hardest challenges you can face as an athlete. Through this article, I can’t speak for every athlete that was ever injured, but I can speak for myself.

My Story

Heading into college I had never dealt with a major injury. I had broken a few bones but never suffered from a major injury. Then came the winter offseason of my freshman year. I was at USA Junior National Team tryouts when I felt like every muscle in my upper back had just cramped. Luckily, the USA National Team athletic trainer, Michele Latimer, was also a Senior Athletic Trainer at the University of South Florida, where I was attending. When we got back to campus, she was able to work on it and loosen it up but I started noticing a weird sensation in my right (throwing) hand. I would go throughout my day and my arm and fingers would tingle, like the pins and needles you feel when you notice a limb was “asleep.” Then, I would be practicing and I would struggle with knowing when the ball was in my hand – I couldn’t feel anything. Midway through my freshman season, I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). I played through this nagging injury for two years. By the fall of my junior year, my condition had deteriorated so much that I was struggling to even hold a pencil. Finally, my coaches, sports medicine staff, and I decided to have the issue surgically corrected. I took the entire fall season to rehabilitate the injury in order to be back in time for  the spring season. I worked extremely hard to get back and pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I could go. In the end, it paid off and I was playing opening night. A few weeks into season, we were playing Ole Miss – a team with a ton of slappers. I came across the field on a high chop over the mound and threw the ball from an off balance position. Instantly I felt a pop; in all honesty, I thought I got shot. I sat out the next game because we had another game with Ole Miss later in the day, and my arm was struggling. During my first at-bat of the game, I swung the bat and thought my shoulder went with the ball. It was agony. After the MRI, it was concluded that I had obliterated my labrum. I decided to finish the season, designated to a pinch-hitting role and have surgery at the conclusion of the season.

It was extremely difficult dealing with an injury for the first time but the second time? It was the lowest I ever felt in my career. I had six months to recover in order to be ready for the start of my senior season. It was a challenge that pushed me even further, but luckily I had a group of teammates also recovering from a major injury that made us all go the distance. Shoutout to my Crip Crew!!!

It’s a Process

There are so many layers that go into dealing with an injury. From the physical pain to the mental struggle, recovery is a long process. The physical limitations depend on the injury but they change how you go about your everyday life. Fun fact – I had to learn how to do everything with my left hand, including putting my hair up. The simplest of tasks became extremely difficult. For lower body injuries, you need to learn how to WALK properly again. Imagine the mental struggle an elite level athlete has with learning how to walk again. Further struggle then comes being around your team. In the beginning, you have to watch them give their everything in practice and weight sessions while you stand on the side hoping your athletic trainer allows you to hold a ball! Yes, your teammates know you’re doing everything you can to be back out there with them but there is still a feeling of inadequacy that washes over you. I was lucky enough to have two teammates to go through this process with. We weren’t afraid to discuss how we were feeling with each other or when we were struggling with an exercise. We did our rehab programs together – two of us were shoulder and one an ACL recovery.

Your Challenge

I challenge you, as a teammate of someone who is injured, to not let them feel alone. Simply having someone from your team help you with your rehab goes a long way when you are recovering from an injury. As coaches reading this, I challenge you to find something for your injured athlete to do. While I was designated to a hitting role, even my true role was being an everyday shortstop, my coaches gave me the challenge of picking every potential sign from the opposing team. I was able to use my strengths as a player to read situations and help put our defense in the best position possible. Offensively, I was able to pick the pitches in order to give my teammates at the plate the best chance for success. It was hard going from playing every single game to only pinch-hitting but it was more the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything for my team that got to me the most. We all want to play, don’t get me wrong. But feeling inadequate is much worse. My coaches understood that my strength as a softball student would still be useful even with me off the field. It gave me a sense of purpose during this injury that made it just slightly easier.

My challenge to the injured athlete reading this – trust the process. It sucks and it is hard but you are going to be a better PERSON because of it. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to adapt to your situation. Find people to help you through it. Talk about what is difficult for you in the process and suggest ideas that will help make it easier. There is strength in saying you are struggling to adapt to your situation. If you don’t say anything, no one will know how to help you. Have a conversation with your coaches and sports medicine staff. The people around you only want the best for you. It is up to you to take control of your recovery process.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

Addiction in Athletics

Looking at the title, you probably think this is just going to be another article about alcoholism or drug addiction. While that does play a role in the conversation, the purpose of this article takes a different route in explaining the role of addiction in athletics.

What is Addiction?

When we think about addiction, we automatically perceive it in a negative connotation. According to the dictionary, when we look up the word addiction, the definition that follow is such – the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. Now let’s break that down further. What is the definition of addicted? Being “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects” or “enthusiastically devoted to a particular thing or activity.” So, why when discussing addiction in relation to a  substance is it “physically and mentally dependent” but when discussing an activity, it is “enthusiastically devoted?” What if an activity caused the same psychological addictive qualities of that of a substance?

Addictive Behavior in Athletics

When we think about elite level athletes – including top tier Division I, professional, and Olympic levels – we think strength and energy, pride and recognition – all stable and unwavering. We put these athletes on pedestals; believing that nothing affects them like the average person. We perceive that they can handle things better than the rest of us. However, what makes a person willing and able to dedicate such an ENORMOUS part of their life to a game or activity? Why do we constantly see players struggling to retire? Or  in so much pain when the game ends for them outside of their control? For most top tier athletes, their sport is all they know. They dedicated every “free” moment to being the best at their sport. They took time from their day to train and travel in order compete at their highest level. For some, they may have become so dependent on their sport to provide them with their basic needs and feelings that when it ended, they didn’t know how to function properly. They shut down or turned to something that gave them the same “high” their sport did.

This all seems troubling yet we as coaches, parents, and professionals only focus on them when they get to the point of turning to alcohol or recreational drugs before we decide to provide assistance. Why not earlier? Their addictive personalities showed so much sooner when they stayed an extra 45 minutes after practice to complete the same drill they already did perfectly 30 times that day. Their behavior screams addiction long before the end of their career! To those who call it ‘perfectionism’, there are multiple studies documenting the psychological link between perfectionism and addiction. To explain further, one who is a perfectionist is addicted to being perfect. They cannot function until the task is perfect. Is that much different than the individual who cannot get through their day without a sip of alcohol or their drug of choice?

So why do we place so much emphasis on helping the individual with the drug addiction but simply brush off the obsessed athlete as, “Oh, they are just a perfectionist?” The addictive cycle will always continue until the wheel is broken. The drug addict or alcoholic will continue to use until an event of huge impact. The perfectionist will continue to seek perfection until they realize they are not perfect. Then what happens to them? What happens to the excellent athlete when they lose their sport- their addiction?  We need to help these individuals whose personalities scream addiction before it gets to the point of destructive habits . We have the ability to but we need to recognize that it is a problem and stop putting athletes on their giant pedestal as if they are immune to these issues. But what do we do? How do we do it? This is the tricky part.

How Do We Address This Issue

We cannot force an athlete to get help for an issue. Like any healing or learning process, the individual has to want to change. There is a reason why most mandatory interventions or mandatory rehabilitation processes fail – the individual must want to get better. In the first few steps on the 12 Step Model of Addiction healing, one must admit there is a problem, understand they cannot tame it on their own, and turn over control (12 Step Program). So as an outside figure, seeing the symptoms but knowing it has to come from the individual, what do we do?

  1. Do not force them to do something they are not ready for. This can result in them pushing away from the people and things they need to remain healthy at the current time.
  1. Support them for who they currently are.
  1. Begin to make them aware of their current tendencies and addictions.
  1. If destructive, make them aware of the harmful consequences of their actions.
  1. Understand that healing takes time and is often a confusing process. Be there for them, as they need it, but do not overwhelm them more.

Becoming aware that there is a problem is the first step to correcting the issue. As an athletic community, we can protect one another from developing harmful addictions by recognizing the behavior early, before it is a problem. Continue to support each other and learn about those you are around. We cannot conquer this issue without the help of all involved in the athletic world.

Coach Cassidy

References

12 Step Programs for Drug Rehab & Alcohol Treatment. (2018, September 23). Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/12-step/

Sometimes Attitude and Effort Just Isn’t Enough

“Your coach doesn’t really determine your playing time. Your own choices do. Your attitude, your effort, your work ethic and more.”

I stumbled upon this while mindlessly scrolling on Instagram, like we all do late at night when we should be doing other things.  I scanned over it quickly and the word “effort” caught my eye, so I scrolled back up and reread it.  

And it bothers me.

And for the girl who starts and plays ever game, this post won’t bother her.

And for the girl who sits the bench, knows she has a poor attitude and doesn’t work that hard, it won’t bother her either.

You know who it will bother?

The girl who busts it every day.  Who stays late at practice. Who hits on the tee late at night in the basement.  Who goes to a private instructor once a week. Who cheers her teammates on. Who, despite doing everything right, still sits the bench.  It will bother her.

Because there are WAY too many instances where this quote just isn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the point. Basically, this is trying to say: those with poor effort, a bad attitude, and no work ethic, will have limited playing time.  

Duh. Boring. We know.

Goal Setting – Controllables vs Uncontrollables

We started a class this fall on the mental game and in week two we spoke about goal setting.  Some girls want to start on varsity this year, another wants to pitch a perfect game, and one wants a full scholarship to the University of Alabama.

What’s something all of these have in common? They are all at the mercy of someone else.  The varsity coach will determine who makes varsity. Your defense behind you, the umpires, and each batter a pitcher faces will determine whether a perfect game is thrown.  And sometimes The University of Alabama softball team has a full scholarship for only one player in the entire country in your recruiting year.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t crush these girls’ dreams.  We simply told them this: IF these were your dreams and goals, let’s make sure we do EVERYTHING in our power to control the controllables.  

What is Controllable?  

We helped each girl come up with their own list of steps to reaching their goal.

One girl’s goal was to make Varsity this spring:

  • I will hit on my own for 25 minutes, 2x per week (10 slow & controlled swing, 10 jump back drill, 10 skip-up drills, etc).
  • I will ensure that my school work is done first, so that I have the ability to play softball this week.
  • As a pitcher, I will develop my change-up this fall, so that I am prepared to face varsity hitters. I will work with a pitching coach once per week and on my own as well.
  • I will work on playing third and outfield with my travel team, so I can play multiple positions.  
  • I will shut my phone off until at least 7:30pm, so I can get my school work and extra softball work in before I turn to social media and group chats with my friends
  • I will work on handling my emotions and being a great teammate during fall ball.

And Now for the Hard Part, The Bitter Truth

Even if you did every single thing on this list, the game does not owe you a dang thing.  

As a player, of course I wanted to be on that field.  I wanted to get the game-winning hit, or make the diving play. I wanted to be at the bottom of that dog pile, instead of running to jump on the top of it. I prepared for it.  I worked outside of practice, took care of my body, taught the game to others around me, and screamed as loud as I could for my teammates when they did something well. I did everything right.  But someone was still better than me. Someone who didn’t have to work that hard. And that’s ok.

Now, five years later, I’m a coach. And my heart strings tug a little every time I see that girl working a little extra, diving all over the field, giving me her best.  And someone else is still better.

Because this games owes us nothing, but pouring everything you have into it sure does put you a hell of a lot closer to your dreams.  Leave it out there. No regrets.

I’m not telling you this to put you down, I’m telling you this because maybe the actual goal (i.e. playing time, wins, hits, etc) is not the point of working hard, but instead it’s about the person you become along the way in pursuit of your goals. We chase the instant gratification, but what if the delayed gratification is even better? So if for some reason you’re sitting there thinking your “time” never came, just hold on. It may look a little different than you originally had imagined.

Don’t believe me?  Read my best friend Jordan Patterson’s article The Game Knows and thank me later.  

As always, telling it like it is,

Ryan

UNRECOGNIZABLE TEAMS HAVE UNRECOGNIZABLE PLAYERS

“Unrecognizable teams have unrecognizable players.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement during my time as a softball player at the University of South Florida. It takes a special individual to truly understand this statement. When you get to the Division I level, especially at a Top 50, sometimes Top 25 program, you are playing with the best of the best. Your teammates were probably the best player on their high school team or travel ball team just like you. There is a reason why they are there. So how do you get a bunch of former number 1’s to gel as a unit and play together?

Unrecognizable Teams Have Unrecognizable Players

I always got the basic concept of this statement. In its simplest form, it means that you can be the superstar on the worst team in the country but no one is going to know who you are because your team isn’t good and no one wants to follow them. Bottom line: it is about the team, not about you. But as simple as this statement can seem, people will perceive it differently. Your experiences shape how you see things.

Being a high school athlete in a small town, I witnessed players get extreme recognition even though their team was not that good. It’s a small town – there were very few athletes going to play at the Division I level, or college in general. For someone who finds themselves in this situation, the meaning of unrecognizable teams and unrecognizable players can be confusing to understand.. It’s not  because they are ignorant, but rather because their experience dictated this to be false! As I developed as an athlete and a person over the course of my career, this statement began to have more and more meaning for me.

Surround Yourself with People Who Make You Better

We don’t get to pick our teammates. The coach’s job is to bring in the best players for the program. It is your job to bring out the best of your teammates, and therefore, hopefully yourself. “Unrecognizable teams have unrecognizable players.” Collectivism is a cultural value of placing the group in front of the individual. When individuals care about putting themselves first, they often will do it at the cost of the group. However, when  the individual cares about how they can best help the group, it will bring out the best in them. Making your team better will make them recognizable and therefore will make you recognizable! Unselfish behavior in a team environment does not mean you lose your identity. It does not mean you neglect taking care of your needs. Instead, it means understanding that your decisions and actions can affect those around you; that you determine how you are going to best serve those around you every single day. When done in a healthy and balanced manner, this ideology has the ability to provide the greatest sense of self-worth and positive identity for an individual. When we surround ourselves with people who bring this positive capacity out of us, we have the ability to reach our fullest potential.

My favorite thing about this lesson – it translates far off the playing field. Here at Athletes Warehouse, we are staffed with former collegiate athletes. From National Champions to a Major League Baseball pitcher, we all have the right to have an ego. Yet day in and day out, we put it aside and work together to better everyone around us. Often, we will have our athletes to work with multiple coaches so they get all of our perspectives. We are constantly learning from each other and our athletes because we understand it is not about us, it is about Athletes Warehouse. The selflessness expressed when an individual walks into this building is what makes this environment so special to be a part of.

“Unrecognizable teams have unrecognizable players.”

Be Recognized,

Cassidy

WHO SHOULD I BE COMPETING AGAINST IN THE WEIGHT ROOM?

Who Should I Be Competing Against in the Weight Room? Another or Myself?

READ THIS FIRST!

“The only thing that I see, that is distinctly different about me, is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill.  I will not be outworked. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me. But if we get on a treadmill together, there are two things, either you’re getting off first or I am going to die”.  It’s as simple as you are not going to outwork me…If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready” – Will Smith

WHAT IS COMPETITION?

Competition is a word that triggers a great deal of debate, especially in the US.  Why? Because in our society, we think of competition as WINNING and LOSING. We often forget that competition goes well beyond that.  

“NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE A COMPETITION…”

I have grown to especially dislike this phrase when it comes to athletes.  I don’t care whether you are playing a team sport or individual sport, you are competing against something or someone whether you realize it or not.  If you are not competing then it is impossible to sit there and say you gave every ounce of effort.

IS COMPETITION GENETIC OR LEARNED?

An even more spirited debate is the question of whether competition is genetic or learned.  There are certainly arguments for both views. With an open mind, think about competition as “Culturally Created.”  This means that the value of what competition represents is going to be different among different cultures. Old School mentalities believe competition is human nature.  But be careful with that thought process and without going down the path of Psychology. I suggest you be your own student and read what the literature has to say, however, I would like you to think about these questions first:

What is your purpose for training?

What Motivates you?

How good are your effort and attitude?  

A COMPETITIVE ATHLETE…

The beautiful part about strength and conditioning is you get to compete against yourself.  You don’t need to view competition negatively or as just winning and losing. One can simply view competition as your motivation, goals, effort, and attitude.  One of the best examples I can give is when we pull out our laser timing systems for testing sprints. Often I pull them out because of the simple fact that it makes our athletes sprint all out even during an individual session.  No matter what the reading, the athlete sprints back to me just as fast, to find out the result. That is usually followed by, “was that a good time”, “am I slow”, “can we run one more” and “I know I can beat that”. That competition is automatically against one’s self.  Now knowing that scenario, imagine what happens when I bring lasers out to a small group of athletes. The whole session turns into a group of athletes giving everything they have in a sprint, simply because they want to be the fastest. That’s what being a competitive athlete is about, giving everything you have. How different were these two events?

COMPETITION AT ATHLETES WAREHOUSE…

If you know anything about Athletes Warehouse, you know that our culture is what makes this a special place.  We have an environment of athletes competing against themselves, against others in their group, even against athletes in other states that they don’t even know.  The best part is, it has nothing to do with weight on a barbell or a time on a 40. More importantly, it has absolutely nothing to do with WINNING OR LOSING. It has everything to do with your purpose for training, your motivation, your effort, and attitude.  How we view competition in the weight room is how we view everything that we do in our lives and that is what we want the main message to be to our young athletes.

-Matt

Dealing with Stress as a Collegiate Student-Athlete

College is hard for most people. Now add 4 hours of practice, 8 hours of study hall, and even more “non-countable” hours. Not to mention multiple games that take up your whole day that also can impact the view of your university or college as a whole. Sounds stressful, right? Being a student-athlete often comes with the idea that you are super confident and on top of the world. Sometimes, this can be the furthest thing from the truth.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay

Student-athletes are often associated with strength and power. So what happens when they don’t feel strong? Are they supposed to lock it in and just “deal with it?” In their position, student-athletes often think strength means dealing with their problems on their own and not letting anyone know they are struggling. True strength comes from admitting you cannot do everything on your own; that sometimes life, school, and sports does get hard and overwhelming. It’s okay not to be okay. We are in the middle of a transition in the stigma regarding mental health. Admitting you are not okay does not have to mean you are depressed or have a mental health disorder – IT IS NORMAL. When competing in everything, mild bouts of stress and anxiety are normal. Being able to communicate it is important in being able to deal with it.

Communication is Key

Often, collegiate programs have someone in their department that specializes in dealing with student-athlete’s health – both physical and mental. Utilize them! They are there for a reason! What you talk about with them is confidential and will not affect your playing time – it is for you to be the best version of yourself. But, if you are uncomfortable with this, there are other people to talk to as well. Not only are there Student Health Services on campus but you also are in a unique situation being around people who understand what you are going through – your teammates. Sometimes we get caught up in the mindset that no one understands what you are going through. While they might not be feeling the exact same things, your teammates often understand what your schedule and normal stresses are like and, for the most part, probably feel them too. Make the most of the people you have around you – you never know what can help you until you try it.

Stay true to you,

Cassidy