Words Matter: Why Coaches Have a Unique Position In Return to Sport After Injury. By Brett Poniros

“Brett Poniros is a Performance Coach at Athletes Warehouse. He was an NCAA Baseball player for Franklin and Marshall College. He is currently studying at the University of Bridgeport School of Chiropractic. In this article he talks about his unique outlook on how to work with an athlete who is returning to sport after an injury.”

Strength coaches have this incredible role to bridge the gap between the rehabilitation facility and the playing field. It is far too often that we see athletes leaving rehab and being sent back onto the field without having addressed many important foundations of sport. They leave being structurally sound, however not prepared for the physical or psychological demands to return to the playing field.

It is hard to deny that compared to rehab offices, a strength and conditioning facility simply offers a different environment that is critically important for an athlete when they are transitioning back to sport. The majority of rehab offices fail to provide an environment that mirror the energy of sport leaving an emotional gap in an athlete’s return to play. Physical injuries can often impact athletes on a psychological level as they can threaten the identity of being an athlete. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty with an injury as it can endanger the longevity and future of an athlete’s career. Contrary to the typical rehab facility we work to create an environment that is focused on them as an athlete and not centered around the diagnosis that they were given.

At Athletes Warehouse we have a very unique way of communicating with our athletes who are returning to their sport after an injury. Words matter, and that’s the bottom line. Your choice of words as a coach can not only set the mindset of a training session, but can alter the way in which an athlete perceives their injury. We’ve observed athletes who have a more positive outlook on their pain and injury have a more rapid and successful return to sport. This becomes tough for our coaches, because we will not be the first person to make contact with the athlete after an injury or surgery. An athlete’s athletic trainer, MD, PT, DC, DO, etc. will be the person who sets the tone for their recovery process, and while understanding the pathophysiology of an injury is the most important step toward diagnosis and treatment plan, poor communication strategies during this process can often set a threatening outlook on the athlete’s path to recovery. Hearing terms like, “there may be a tear”, “you won’t be able to play this season,” or “you probably shouldn’t perform _________ activity for a couple of months,” while accurate in some sense, can be traumatizing to the athlete. During the return to play process, our coaches communicate with athletes in a way that eliminates the idea of “cannot” and “should not”. While we remain honest with our athletes, we utilize different language. Rather than saying “you can’t do a box jump with your knee right now,” we’d say “we’re utilizing a controlled landing drill in order to progress you to a box jump”. This projects the future as positive and progressive rather than threatening and degenerative.

The return to play process is complex beyond structure and function. As a coach we are accounting for physical and psychological variables that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. At the end of the day energy and emotions play an integral role in preparing an athlete to return to the field. The combination of the right professional and the right facility can change the way that we bring athletes back from injury.

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