“When one door closes, another opens;
but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door
that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
- Alexander Graham Bell
Some of the greatest lessons that a person can learn about life and leadership comes from playing sports.
It’s on the playing field that we discover how important it is to have a positive attitude, be a team player, and give 100% effort. There is also an inherent risk of injury, defeat, and disappointment when it comes to playing sports. How we handle those challenges and what we learn from them can help us not only grow as an athlete but more importantly as a person.
Jenna, a student-athlete at Essex High School in Essex, VT knows this first hand. Going into her senior year she was captain of her soccer team and the season ahead was full of promise. During a preseason game in one play Jenna tore her left ACL, cracked her kneecap and cracked her femur bone. Her season was over – and for someone who lived and breathed soccer – Jenna was devastated.
She now had to face one of the biggest challenges an athlete can be confronted with – dealing with a season-ending injury.
I asked Jenna how she handled this setback and what she did to turn such a painful experience into something positive. Her lessons and insights may not only make a difference for athletes but for anyone confronted with an unexpected turn of events.
It’s Okay to be disappointed, sad, frustrated and even angry.
It can be a shock to learn that you cannot finish your season or possibly ever play again. Give yourself the time to process the upset. It’s okay to be disappointed, sad, frustrated and even angry at first. The best thing for parents, friends, family and coaches to do is to bring as much understanding and compassion to the situation as possible.
When you’re dealing with a student athlete who has a passion and love for the game and has spent their whole life playing a sport and then has a season-ending injury, the last thing they want to hear initially is ‘you’ll bounce back from this’. Just listen and let a little time pass.
Redefine your role and focus
Once you have had time to process the disappointment, it’s important to re-frame this experience and focus on what you can control and contribute to your team. In this case, Jenna asked herself, “although I can’t be a leader on the field, what can I do from the sidelines as a captain/leader/teammate to help my team?”
Examples include: spending extra time after practice with a player who is struggling with their shot or helping a player with their dribbling. It could include taking the time to have 1-on-1 conversations with some of the players and letting them know what a great job they’re doing, encouraging them to do their best. By being engaged in the game and encouraging her teammates Jenna was able to “not get caught up in the past and what could have been.”
Create new opportunities
Student athletes can sometimes define themselves as just a “soccer player” or a “basketball player” and lose sight of the bigger picture. When you are faced with a season-ending injury it causes you to see that you are much more than just the sport that you play. You have other talents and have the choice to start setting new goals and create new opportunities. For example, you may find that after going to physical therapy to recover from your injury that you now want to get into sports medicine.
Keeping the passion for the game
Just because you can no longer play your sport does not mean you cannot be a part of it. You could get into coaching, become a sports broadcaster, or even work for a professional team in public relations.
The point is the love and passion for the game does not have to go away, you just might have to walk through another door to find it.