Part of my work as a leadership coach is to help athletes with their mental and emotional transition from their sporting career, into the next phase. It is quite common for athletes to not feel they have anything to offer the World professionally other than their profile and their sporting talent. Therefore I help them see the character traits and leadership skills that their sports career helped them develop, which are huge assets when creating the next career steps. A large part of any athlete’s career is dealing with injury, which is so often associated with disappointment and pain, both physical and emotional. However, there is no better situation or period of adversity than an unprecedented Global Coronavirus Pandemic, to highlight the advantages of having experienced the physical and emotional rollercoaster of injury management.
Here are 6 examples of what I gained being injured so often during my 12 year professional rugby career:
1. I Was Taught How To "Control The Controllables"
Being injured meant sometimes not being able to perform my usual tasks, both on and off the field. It was easy to let my mind focus on what I couldn’t do, and things that were out of my control like whether the team wins or loses without me, or how well my replacement performs in my absence. Worse yet, will he take my spot permanently? What I was able to control, was rehabilitating my injury to return to the field even stronger and fitter than before, and making sure that I always remained positive. The mind-body connection is powerful, and I reminded myself that if my mindset was negative and full of worry about things I couldn’t control, it would slow down my body’s ability to heal. This translates well to my current situation and prevents me from developing anxiety about things out of my control like Coronavirus conspiracy theories, the disruption in my plans both personally and professionally, and wondering when the lockdown and other restrictions will be lifted.
2. I Developed Better Discipline
As my body was required to perform my job, being sidelined often posed the threat of losing income or even worse, not having my contract renewed or terminated. Therefore it was important to get back onto the field as quickly as possible. In order for this to happen, I needed to be diligent and disciplined in my behaviors and habits, and that I wasn’t just doing the right things to maximize my recovery, but I was also abstaining from doing the wrong things that could sabotage my recovery. Being disciplined during this Pandemic is important when maintaining the routines and practices necessary to optimize our mental, physical, and emotional wellness while navigating change. It is not only our mindset that serves as an important defense system, but our immune system too!
3. I Gained Self-Awareness Through Curiosity
I spent a lot of time in the physical therapist’s practice rehabilitating my injuries. Over time I began to see the benefits of asking questions and learning from the medical staff all about the human body. Learning about myself and how to prevent and heal injuries rather than just leaving it in the hands of others, gives me greater power and sense of control, and also a greater appreciation of the miracle that is the human body, meaning I take it for granted way less. The same can be said for mental and emotional wellness, and I started applying the same curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the brain and emotional intelligence. This knowledge, understanding and connection to my physical and emotional wellness is great arsenal for facing the many challenges posed by a viral pandemic.
4. I Learned How To Push Through The Pain
Not all injuries kept me on the sideline. In fact, toward the end of my career I barely remember playing a match without some kind of niggling injury that caused great discomfort, but didn’t reduce my functionality enough to prevent me from performing. Basically this means I learned how to make personal sacrifices to ensure the team’s objectives were met. During this current Corona climate, the physical pain has been replaced with emotional pain such as uncertainty, anxiety, fear, loss and others that many of us are experiencing. Managing injuries enabled me to develop an awareness of myself and my limits, and experience the benefits of persevering, and pushing those limits for the greater good. This is proving to be a valuable skill set, especially when others need my services more than ever right now!
5. I Discovered The Importance Of Pre-habilitation
The term rehabilitation is obviously synonymous with recovering and rebuilding, but just as important and often neglected is pre-habilitation, which involves engaging in practices such as isolated and highly specific exercises to help prevent injuries, or at least minimize their severity.
Where else can this concept be applied to other areas of our lives? Well, appropriate financial planning and budgeting for times of crisis like these is an obvious example.
Nurturing relationships and building strong support networks is another way to prevent the impacts of adversity.
Constantly working on one’s self-awareness, developing a positive life philosophy and healthy relationship with our ego are other recommendations for what I refer to in this instance as ‘Crisis Pre-habilitation’.
6. I Am Better Able To Navigate Sudden Change
Of the countless injuries and 8 major surgeries I endured over 20 years of elite level sport, one of them essentially ended my career and suddenly brought about a massive change. When I broke my neck I had to immediately face the possibility of never walking again, to then the possibility of never regaining full function of my arm again, to then the reality of never playing rugby again. It has been quite a transition journey and with many valuable lessons that I am able to apply today. For example, I developed a model of dealing with transition that involves 3 main steps:
- Acceptance of the new situation.
- Assessment of my mental, emotional and physical status (self awareness), and the opportunities that were available to me.
- Action steps required to move forward, and how to achieve them.
This can be a road map not only for the current Global disruption, but for any challenging situations we may face that produce unwanted thoughts and feelings.
You can read more about these steps and how best to execute them in my free eBook called The Sur-thrival Guide.