In sports, there are very few who can go through an entire career injury free, mentally or physically. USA Volleyball athletes talk about what helps them in recovery.
I've had a few injuries in my career and what I've learned was to find a good med provider and listen to them. If you feel good enough to play, take one more week off, there's a chance you could re-injure yourself.
Member of the U.S. Women's National Team
I tore my ACL back in January of 2016, and had it surgically repaired February 2016. I was in Japan playing for my professional team, Toray Arrows. I was running a 'gap' set, also known as a 3, 31, etc. When I went to land, I landed pretty hard, only on my left leg. My leg twisted a bit, and I ended up twisting my knee and tearing my ACL.
A lot of things helped me through the injury. Physically, the thing that helped me the most was obviously strengthening my leg again. It is important for your leg muscles to be strong, because these are the muscles that stabilize your knees when you land. For a knee injury, it is important to rehab and focus on the hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Also, I cleaned up my jumping and landing mechanics, which is a long, ongoing process.
I had a lot of support throughout my entire rehab time. Our USA Volleyball strength coach, Jimmy Stitz, was a huge help for me during the entire thing, and he was very supportive. My family, friends, and other USA Volleyball staff and players were also so helpful during the entire thing. It's a very long process, and I'm lucky because I didn't have to do it alone.
I have only had minor injuries like ankle sprains and stuff, but the main thing I kept telling myself is to remain positive. It's easy to go into the stage of feeling sorry for yourself but if you rise above that and start thinking of other ways to improve your game then you are still working at becoming better! Podcasts and books on mental toughness and watching film are great alternatives!
Irene's favorite books:
I love 'Finding Mastery' podcast by Michael Gervais. One of the segments I continually go back and listen to is his conversation with Pete Carroll. So inspiring and definitely worth a listen! My favorite book is 'The Energy Bus.' No one wants to be or be around the "energy vampires!"
During the end of my first year as a pro beach athlete, when I was still relentlessly pursuing the learning of beach technique, I got a stress fracture in my lower back. It forced me to sit out of a few tournaments, which was unthinkable at the time. I got through the recovery period by doing everything I could to help it heal, while continuing to grow and strengthen other areas affecting performance.
I did physical therapy about four times a week, with each session including hands-on treatment, followed by a lengthy session of exercises for core strength and functional strength. The aspect of performance that I focused on improving the most during this period was my mental game. It was a great opportunity for me to improve my visualization skills, my mind’s ability to control performance, my confidence in my ability to perform well despite a lack of rep-produced automaticity.
I have worked through every single one of my numerous injuries with the same mindset--There's always a minute of 'Oh no! Oh my gosh! I'm devastated!'. And then there's always the pivot to 'O.K. It's going to be O.K. I will work to come back stronger. There's opportunity here. And then I lean on my people to help guide me back and better on those tough days when I'm feeling sad.
Two years ago I was playing in France, it was a dream come true to play in such a high level league, except everything that had previously gave me joy and happiness came to a crashing end.
Our team was terrible (ended up 3-23). The foreigners and the local players fought all the time, no one wanted to train hard and improve, the weather was constantly grey and rainy, I had no friends, my long term girlfriend and I had just broken up and I was alone, frustrated, angry and ready to quit.
I was ready to quit because everything outside of me was falling apart and so on the inside, I gave in as well. Finally, the day came, I had had enough, I called my agent and told him I wanted out, either he find me another team or I would just leave and come back to California.
I went to bed, frustrated, angry and disheartened as I felt I had gave so much to this season but nothing was being returned. I woke up the next day and it was black and white, either I was quitting or I would stick it out. I realized right away that I wasn't a quitter, nor would I begin to be.
I accepted everything out of my control (constant loosing, teammates, weather, loneliness, angry coach and lack of quality facilities) and realized that they were just that, out of my control.
Why pay any attention to them, they weren't going to change, nor would they with any amount of my frustration towards them.
Instead I looked at myself in the mirror, then I looked even deeper. What can I be doing better, am I showing up every day to training with the best attitude possible, when someone happens that I don't agree with, do I let these actions effect my attitude and my professionalism? Can I work even harder and closer to my values and priorities??
At the time, I had a weekly list of values I could commit to on and off the court that would help me grow on the court and help push myself physical and mentally off of it. At the time, I was completing 50-60% on the list, after the meltdown I committed to finishing everything on the list for two weeks straight (taking back the power that I had control over). After the two weeks ended, I decided to push even more, relentlessly working the best I could on and off the court in line with my values as an athlete and person. The team didn't change, the coach and players didn't change, but because of hitting rock bottom, I decided there was nowhere to go but up and I would dig myself out. No reliance on anyone else but my own determination, it was up to me.
It was a complete 180 flip, every day was amazing. I woke up with purpose and immediately got to work, excited to build myself to become a better version each and every day. (Even though the team won two of 13 games in the second half of the season) I was living the "best day ever" and it was because I stopped making excuses, explanations and finding scapegoats. I took back the control and power over my life and finished the season strong, laying the foundation to how I still work today.