Oct 19, 2018
Still in the Game
David Hoch

No coach likes to see a player get injured — and no athlete likes to get injured. But all sports carry some risk to participants, and even with protective equipment and proper conditioning and training, injuries happen. One might say that injuries are a normal, but unfortunate, part of the game.

This being said, what do you do if you have an injured player or two? Of course, your first step is to ask your athletic trainer to evaluate the player and diagnose the injury. He or she will refer the player to a doctor if necessary. If the injury doesn’t warrant a doctor’s visit or a trip to the hospital, the athletic trainer will provide first aid. He or she will also notify parents and spell out steps to take for the healing and rehabilitation.

But then what? Chances are, you now have an athlete who is limited in practice for at least a few days and who will miss a game or two. If it’s a more serious injury, they may even be sidelined for the remainder of the season. As a coach, how do you keep an injured player involved with the team? The following suggestions should help.

Encourage them in rehab. Make sure that the injured athlete follows all the instructions from your athletic trainer for recovery and rehabilitation. This has to be the priority in order for the player to regain strength, mobility, and overall health so that he or she can return to participation. If the injury ends the athlete’s season, help them focus their sights on recovering so they can begin getting ready for the start of the new season as soon as possible.

Have them attend. Include injured players in pre-game meetings, sessions in which you go over game plans, and film study — as long as they are not missing rehab sessions in the athletic training room. If the injured athlete is an older, experienced player, encourage them to provide tips to the younger players. They can actually serve as an additional coach or tutor, helping with preparation for upcoming games. Point out that they are providing an invaluable contribution to the team when they do this.

Individualize the plan. Sit down with the athlete and outline a couple of additional possibilities for their involvement, depending upon the nature and severity of their injury. For example, maybe the injured player cannot run or move laterally. But he or she might be able to stand in one spot and pass the ball in drills.

Keep them involved. Include injured players at team dinners and other related activities — even community service events, if they are physically able. Keep them together with their friends in situations in which they will laugh, share stories, and feel that they are still part of the team.

Respect their status. Do not ask players who are injured to take stats or chart plays unless they come to you and volunteer. Why? These are tasks that managers, not players, normally handle. This would highlight that they can’t participate and possibly make them feel even worse that they are not out on the field or court with teammates.

Use humor. Joke and tease with injured players, within appropriate parameters and boundaries. This is what you do with “active” players, and it is an important part of the team dynamic and coach-player relationship. Therefore, treat these young people as you do any other athlete. Don’t isolate them or relate to them differently.

An injury does affect a team, especially the athlete who suffered it. While you still have to prepare the rest of the team for your next contest, helping an injured player remain involved is an important part of your job. Ensuring that all players have the best possible experience should be a major objective in education-based athletics — and this includes those who are injured.

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at: [email protected].

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