How to stay involved in your sports team while injured

Injuries happen to everybody, even the best athletes. But no matter how many times people say that or how long an injury lasts, being injured and stuck on the sidelines is never fun. It can make you feel angry, useless, and left out, even if it's a situation you have no control over.

Last October, I went to the doctor's office and found out I had two herniated discs in my back. I wasn't able to play lacrosse from October to when schools shut down for COVID-19 in April. Throughout this period, I still attended all on and off-season practices and games, and this gave me a lot of time to figure out how to stay involved in my team, even if I wasn't playing. Here are some tips I rounded up from my time on the sidelines that can help you feel like you're still a part of the team while you're injured. 

Communicate with your coach

This is the very first thing you should do when you find out you're injured or are starting to feel pain during practice. This is especially important if you haven't gone to the doctor's office yet since you don't know how far you should be pushing yourself. Don't be afraid to ask to sit out of certain drills because practicing with an injury can make the injury even worse.

Once you've gone to the doctor's office, continue to communicate with your coach. Most coaches are understanding when it comes to injuries, and if they're not, keeping them in the know with where you are in the recovery process makes clear to them that you're making an effort to get back on your feet. 

Also, make sure to discuss what your role on the team will be while you're recovering. Every team is different. Some coaches might require you to come to every single practice, game, and tournament while others are fine with you just showing up at games. If it's an injury that will keep you from playing for a while, some coaches might still let you get P.E. credit while others won't. It's important to make this clear with your coach from the start so that neither of you is confused later down the line. 

Show up to the practices and games

Even if your coach doesn't require you to go to practices while injured, it's still good to go. It shows that you're invested in the team, and it's a great time to maintain your friendships on the team, especially if you don't see your teammates outside of practice. Sitting on the side and talking with them during water breaks or walking with them to the field are little things that can help you keep your relationships on the team steady.

Make sure to show up at games or meets as well! Bus rides for away games are a great time to feel like you're fully part of the team again, and extra support on the sidelines is always appreciated. 

Be the ball girl or water girl

At practices and games, offer to pick up stray balls or fill water bottles. It's the little things that your team will appreciate. You can also help run drills or warmups by rolling out balls, calling out the exercises, setting up equipment, or being the DJ to control the warmup music. This way, you're helping out, and you still feel like you're involved in all the action. 

Ask to coach beginners

If you're a higher level player, ask your coach if you can help out the beginners or the lower level team. You get to participate in the practices without playing, and you get to know people that you otherwise wouldn't have known well. If your school team has a summer camp, this is also a great way to stay involved in off-season practices because most school sports camps over the summer will have a lot of newcomers to the sport. 

Organize team bonding

If your team has a bonding time or a dinner after a practice or game, ask if you can help organize the gathering. You have time that your teammates don't have sitting around during practices that you can use to plan the gathering, and it always helps if there's a person who is able to leave practice a little early to go set up. If your team doesn't do bondings, start the tradition! It's a great way to get the team together outside of practice, and it's something even the injured can participate in.

Announce at games 

If you play a school sport and your school has an announcement system at your field, court or pool, ask your coach if you can announce games. It's a lot of fun, and if your announcement system is up in a box above the field or court, you get a completely different perspective of the game that can improve your sports IQ when you watch closely. Plus, your team loves it when they hear their teammates' names over the system after scoring a point. 

Be the support (and ask for it too!)

You are in a unique position when you're injured because you know the workings of the team, but you're not a direct part of the action. If your team faces a lot of stress or pressure because of a big game or a demanding coach, be available as mental and emotional support for your teammates. You're in an optimal position to give support and put things into perspective for them. 

On the other hand, your injury can sometimes make you worried about playing time or feel left out. Lots of athletes can also feel angry about their injury, and these are all completely valid feelings. If you need support, don't be afraid to reach out to your teammates, coaches, friends or parents. Everybody wants you back in shape to practice, and clarifying things with your coach or teammates can make you feel a lot better about a situation. Remember that most injuries are temporary, and you'll be back on your feet in no time!

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by Erin Jeon | 7/9/2020