Post-Injury Mental Recovery — PART ONE

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(AKA How to Regain Your Zazzle)

At some point in everyone’s derby career they will face the prospect of “coming back”.

One of the most common reasons to leave derby and come back is injury-related, but you may also have to come back from personal leave, league drama, deployment, or something else entirely.

Your reactions to returning to roller derby after a significant time away (3+ months) will likely differ based on why you left in the first place. For example, there will be more deep seated and lingering emotions to deal with when returning from an injury (or even league drama) than there would be when returning from a much needed and satisfying personal leave of absence or a necessary work trip.

That being said, any sort of long term absence from the sport will impact your mentality within the game. And your mental state will impact your physical ability to play the game.

Being able to successfully conquer your fears, doubts, frustrations, and anxieties when it comes to reintegrating into your team and the sport, is all about managing your expectations and managing your behavior.

ANTICIPATE THE STRUGGLE.

A large part of getting back into the swing of things is accepting ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult. You WILL have a  hard time remembering and executing your skills. You WILL struggle to trust your teammates within your wall. You WILL make mistakes (probably at a greater rate than you used to). You will backslide.

The Struggle is Real

Expect that these things will happen and you’ll be better able to manage the feelings that occur when these situations inevitably pop up. Anticipating is everything. Ask yourself, “How am I going to deal with my feelings if I can’t keep up with the pace line?” Don’t assume that event will happen, but prepare for it if it does. Try to create a constructive response to any struggle you might come across and you won’t find yourself mired in the moment, berating yourself with negative talk.

TAKE SMALL BITES.

That will mean different things to different people, but you’ll be most successful if you approach your return in small, easily digestible chunks.

Prior to giving birth, I had lofty dreams about being bout eligible in October (Autotot was born mid-August) which meant that I would have had to make 6 full practices in the month of September. Not that hard considering my league offers 4 practices per week. I could have taken the first two weeks of September off and still made eligibility. And I really, REALLY wanted to. But my labor and delivery didn’t go as planned and left me feeling unable to take care of myself, let along this new tiny person (let alone my derby league). I managed my return very carefully, attending only 1/2 practices every once in awhile before working up to consistent, full practices.

Intentionally limiting your participation might not be your style (or be necessary given why you left the league in the first place), but having conscious control over how you approach your return to practices is important for recovering your normal derby mentality.

Gaining conscious control is difficult because it requires you to constantly be aware of what your internal dialogue is saying. That’s not super feasible when your conscious mental energy is taken up simply by the task of being at practice. So how do you take small bites without overwhelming yourself?

Spend 5 minutes after each practice — before you take your gear off, before you start handling league business, before you start chatting with your league mates — to choose a way in which you improved over the course of the practice. This is where your mental focus and conscious attention needs to be. Allow yourself 5 minutes to think only of the positive things that you did that day and to pinpoint an actual and specific way in which you improved. Not “I guess I did okay in the pace line”, but “I was much quicker at reforming with my wall by the end of practice“.

The last part of that phrase is most important. You’re not comparing yourself to before. You’re not giving yourself unrealistic time lines. It’s specifically targeted to one practice; a small bite.

LIVE VICARIOUSLY.

A huge part of managing behavior, especially if you’re feeling stressed out or uncertain about something, is learning to live vicariously. Find someone within your league that has experienced what you are experiencing and talk to them about it.

Listening and learning about how others have dealt with the problems that you face is invaluable. You may end up with an “I’m sure as shit not doing it that way” moment or a “That sounds like a really good idea…I think I’ll try it” moment. Both of these reactions tell you something about how you might be able to better manage your own comeback.

Like I said earlier, I have lost playing time for 5 separate injuries. Most of the skaters in my league know that if they want to talk about coming back from injury (and can get past my resting bitch face) that I have some experiences that they might learn from and take to heart or consider and then discard.

CREATE MASTERY EXPERIENCES.

Otherwise known as the ubiquitous “Just Do It”. The biggest way to regain your zazzle after time away from the sport is to experience and recognize successes when they happen. You have to recreate situations in which you can develop and execute mastery of a skill or situation. And then you have to give yourself a pat on the back.

This can sometimes be easier said than done, right? How do you create a mastery experience when you’ve been gone so long and don’t feel like you can master anything?

Start where you typically experience the most success.

I’m not a terribly proficient plow stopper (so you can take advantage of that if you ever play me) and I struggle to be an effective blocker when I’m in the middle positions of the wall. When I returned from my injuries, I didn’t start in the middle of the wall because those are not places of consistent mastery for me. I made sure that when I lined up in walls, I was always on the outside (my strongest position), facing the non-derby direction (my strongest orientation).

You obviously shouldn’t stick with these positions indefinitely (because you don’t want to ignore your skating weaknesses), but when you’re returning from time off, and are concerned about your performance, mastery experiences are more important than your overall skill balance.

Enough successful mastery experiences will start to get your head in the right space again — the space where you aren’t worrying about your injury or your performance or your ability — and once you’ve spent some time in that head space, it will be time to collect mastery experiences in more difficult areas.

Check out PART TWO here.


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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.