In the past 15 years or so coaching hockey I’ve seen a lot of injuries. Some scary ones, some minor ones and everything in between. I can picture the faces of each athlete in my mind when I recall some of the more severe situations, and the interesting thing is that few of them were in pain.
But they were all in shock.
I remember the dropped jaw and wide eyes of Tyler Yaworski immediately after breaking his wrist in 2007. I remember his teammate, Mink (I don’t remember his first name), looking ahead calmly after catching a rut in the ice and breaking his tibia.
I remember Anthony Siriani in 2011 breathing deeply after separating his shoulder in Bantam AAA for the 3rd time.
I remember Andre Margo trying to convince me to put him back on the ice after he clearly broke his collarbone last season. Unfortunately, that would be the last shift of minor hockey Andre would ever play.
I remember Clint Colebourn perfectly still, face down on the ice five months ago not knowing if he’d walk again let alone play hockey. (He did both - he even started coaching our Friday puck skills class.)
Injuries are a component on the game over which we have little control. Sure, we can train our bodies to be strong and we can sleep properly and eat well so we’re focused and prepared, but even the most prepared player can be injured when least expected.
Note: in 15 years I’ve never seen an injury to an atom or initiation player in practice, so parents of young children can breathe easy. Honestly, and that’s 15 years of being on the ice on average of 12 hours every week.
Bones heal. Joints mend. Muscles grow back.
The mind is a difficult organ to repair. Imagine the largest crane on the planet trying to fix itself - it’s a tall task (haha, there’s some comic relief, something this post desperately needs).
The hockey world argues all the time about the timing when players come back from injuries. The best young player in the game recently returned from a broken collar bone to a rising tide of anger over the delay of his return. People said he was healthy, so why wouldn’t he come back?
Coming back physically healthy and coming back emotionally healthy are two different animals. Hockey is a game that can’t be played absent courage. It’s a gruelling, physical sport played by athletes well-tuned in relation to their peers. If a player comes back too early, they’re likely to hold back. Races to the puck in the corner are a terrifying prospect if you think too much about what the aftermath might look like. But these are instances where injury occurs most often.
This is a post I’ve been waiting a while to write. I held off during the season because the subject matter is a bit depressing, and injuries always happen when you concentrate on them. It’s science.
Well, it’s officially the offseason, and the time is now to develop the mind as well as the body.
How? Practice. Repetition. I work with a lot of defensemen in the summer, and we practice small details like shoulder checks every day. A defenseman who builds a habit of automatically checking over his shoulder before retrieving a puck will avoid potential injuries without thinking once the season starts up again.
All that said, injuries still happen. The key is to learn from them and then fold the fear up into a page and stock it on a shelf way down in the deeper recesses of the mind.
If a player can weave confidence throughout the rebuilding process following an injury, they’re likely to come back stronger and more determined than ever.