How to Help Injured Players and Have Them Help You

May 07, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

Player injuries are an unfortunate part of sports. However, like so many other aspects of sports, injuries provide “teachable moments.” These are opportunities for Responsible Coaches to use misfortune or adversity to teach life lessons and cultivate character.

The single most important thing to address is the possibility that the injured player becomes depressed. With sports at the center of so many kids lives, the absence of the sport can leave a void that can sometimes fill with negativity.

The physical and emotional energy previously brought to practice and games, now lacking an outlet, can turn to inward anger. It is not uncommon for children, especially adolescents, to define themselves by their sports and to therefore question their identity or self-worth when the sport is taken away.

The key to combating these effects is keeping the player involved in the team. As long as injured players contribute off the field, they resist at least some of the negative feelings that accompany injury. Although they cannot participate on the field they can be a great value to the team off the field as their injury heals.

In fact, a forced idleness is a great opportunity for a player to view the game differently than it appears in the midst of action. For example, the sidelines are an unparalleled place to recognize offensive patterns or defensive strategies.

It may take long and repeated talks with injured players before they understand and accept the opportunity to learn this way. However, it is worth the investment, because it is healthy for the player and can turn him or her into a sideline asset. You, as coach, gain another set of eyes and another source of encouragement to the other players.

To cultivate the behavior you want from the injured player, you must assign specific tasks. Doing so:

  • Demonstrates the sincerity of your statement that the player still can contribute
  • Occupies the player’s pent-up energy
  • Can yield invaluable insight into your own team and your opponents.

Here are some specific tasks you might consider assigning:

  • Watching the clock to help coaches manage play-calling
  • Studying teammates and opponents who play the same position as the injured player so he or she can identify techniques to try (or avoid!) after returning from injury
  • Assessing other positions the player may want to try when healthy
  • Charting tendencies of a specific opponent and reporting to coaches and teammates during breaks in the action
  • Helping substitute players warm up and prepare to enter the game (i.e., help with stretching, or play catch if health permits)
  • Encouraging players as they wait on the sidelines to enter a game
  • Keeping track of normally uncharted statistics
  • Positive Charting

Many of these tasks will have the injured player deliver good news to teammates, thus keeping him or her involved and strengthening bonds between players. Seeing the silver lining within the cloud of the injury will speed the injured player’s recovery, at least emotionally, and keep him or her as a positive force on your team.

Our partner Positive Coaching Alliance, is hosting a free webinar May 10th 2012 on preventing injuries featuring trainers from the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Midwest Orthopedics. Register for free today.

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports ProgramTM ( powered by Positive Coaching Alliance ( Special thanks to David Jacobson of Positive Coaching Alliance for authoring this article. This article is copyrighted and all rights are reserved.