If someone close to you has been sidelined from sports for an extended period of time, I’ll bet you’ve tried to cheer them up. Haven’t you searched for magic words or advice could make things better?
I watched an interesting video recently of Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a Professional Ballroom Dancer, who survived the Boston Marathon bombings where she lost her left leg below the knee. Adrianne recounts her experience as one of the victims of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Her experience is far more profound than your typical athletics sidelining injury, but she said some things that resonated with me.
Tragic and very dramatic injuries as with Adrianne, or only what seems as tragic at the time – the fact is that when you get injured you are the one going through it.
Most sidelined athletes do not really want to hear:
- You’ll be back soon. (Optimism shits. Exactly how do you know anyway?)
- It could be worse, you could be in war-torn [insert country name of choice] without a home. (Really? And I can feed the starving kids in Somalia with what’s left on my plate right?)
- You’re lucky it wasn’t worse. (Pessimistic outcome blended with some kind of guarded-optimism – it’s already bad enough.)
- Look on the bright side. (Optimism still shits. Looking out from the shadows – it doesn’t help.)
- It can’t be all that bad. (Minimizing and dismissing; yes it is… for me…. right now.)
- You should have just backed off… (Blaming is really effective of course: you earned it, your fault, with a hint of “I told you so” sprinkled in. Save it!)
- You should have known better. (You’re actually stupid. Thank you. I already know that.)
- What can I do for you? (As if you have the power to return me to health?)
Part of my mental game work is with athletes who are rehabbing from injuries. My job is to assist athletes in their journey back. My job is to find the right words at the right time to act as a catalyst to move forward and come back. Ok, and I’ll say it, part of my job is to help them feel better (emotionally). I want to be that motivator. Yet, often I am at a loss for words because I know the pain (emotional not physical). And I know that words do not change the situation.
As Adrianne states, sometimes it’s best not to say anything. It’s true. Sometimes words don’t work, silence is better. Sometimes just shut up. Watch a favorite show or ridiculous Youtube videos.
My advice to friends & supporters of sidelined athletes:
- Be there. Don’t avoid the athlete.
- If you can’t be there; just do something nice for them and don’t tell them it was you. (If you watched in the video – note the effect of that unattributed daily Starbucks.)
- Speak when the athlete is ready and receptive.
- When you do speak, ask questions instead of sharing your horror stories or advice. (Remember, it’s not about you.)
- Let the athlete express.
- Listen attentively.
- Back off and don’t judge what is said or the emotions expressed.
- Be there. Shut up. You don’t have to say anything. Give a hug.
- Bring donuts, coffee and a good movie.