Throughout my coaching career, I got many emails and letters from parents, but one question I was asked often was “How do I deal with my child’s recent injury? He/she is emotional, scared, and unsure about the long road back to recovery.” This is a difficult time for any parent – and athlete – and there is no perfect answer here.  Below is a letter I recently received (name changed for privacy) and my response, in which I share a personal story of overcoming injury. If you are facing this type of situation, hopefully this might be helpful for you and your family.

Dear John,

My daughter recently tore her ACL in training. She is 13 years old! She is a week out from her repair. The doctor told us it went “perfectly.” This is such a long; hard road. Much more difficult than any of us had expected.

How can you be prepared for something like this at such a young age? There are good days and bad days. Last night was a bad day. She told me last night: I wish I had never gone for that ball! (She was going for a  ball and was tackled “somewhat” from behind. She couldn’t see the defender and when she went down she heard a “pop”) My question is: how can we best help our daughter?

Of course as a family we are rallying around her with unconditional love and support. My husband is a doctor so I feel extra “covered” at home as far as physically taking care of her, but, “mentally”…I feel so sad for her. We are in the midst of all the “madness” of tryouts for the next season and here she lays on the couch struggling to even get to the bathroom! She has gained “perspective”. She says that she does want to play soccer again and so I can’t figure out if to take her to some functions for the team that she will return to later.  I’m trying to figure out if she should just take a complete “break” from anything soccer until she can touch a soccer ball again or take her to some functions? What do you think about this? If my daughter finds after all of this, that she doesn’t want to return to soccer that’s just fine too, but, her doctor has said she will play soccer again if she wants too. Thanks so much for your time.

Here is my response:

Dear Soccer Mom,

So sorry to hear about your daughter. That is such a young age to go through an injury like this, although the good news is she will probably be a fast healer. The advancements in that kind of surgery are huge, and it is crucially important that she vigorously participates in her rehab. One of the issues athletes face physically is that they start feeling good, and begin running too early, which can lead to long term issues. Be sure to follow the advice of her physician and therapist, and put in the time in rehab. It makes a huge difference.

As far as the mental stuff, let me share a personal story. When I was 17 I broke my leg in a game, and missed 13 months! I remember in the beginning feeling really sorry for myself, and like her feeling silly that I went for a ball that I didn’t need to get. I remember feeling that way until one day I went to therapy, and some of the patients there were paraplegics, or messed up far worse than I was. One of them was trying an exercise and urinated all over himself. I remember thinking ‘Wow, at least I am going to get better and play again. Some of these people never will ever even walk again.” At that point, I stopped feeling sorry and started focusing on getting better. Hopefully, your daughter will have one of those moments too.

As far as being around soccer or not, I say leave that up to her. In my case, the more I was around it, the more I wanted to get out there and get better. It motivated me, and I even got angry at teammates who were not working hard, who were not taking advantage of the opportunity to play. It made me appreciate the ability to play sports, and helped me realize how much I loved them. Let your daughter lead on that front, and talk to her about how it makes her feel. Then follow her lead.

Good luck, I know this is a long and painful process, but she will get through it. If you do it right, not only can she be physically healthy, but she will be stronger mentally as well. You will always be able to remind her, “you got through the ACL injury, you can get through this to.” It’s a harsh, but valuable life lesson.

If you have a similar story, and are willing to share, please do. Perhaps your story give a family some perspective, and help them get through some tough times.


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