Muscles on the Inside

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“In any group of people only 1-10% have taken a straight trajectory. The much more common route is circuitous.”–Madeline Levine

In the process of our son selecting a sports agent for his professional football career, we were privileged to be in a meeting with one of the agents, who made, what to me was, a “jaw dropping statement.” While other candidates pitched all the positives to make a good impression, this gentleman went straight to the substance of what he considered to be important. He said, “You should understand that injuries are a part of the game.” He was the candidate my son ultimately selected to represent him.

Sports are meant for recreation and enjoyment. We rarely stop to acknowledge that it is common for athletes, even young ones, to sustain injuries. Broken bones, dislocations, jammed fingers, sprained ankles, growth plate injury, torn ligaments, shin splints, Osgood Schlatter, cuts and bruises are examples of injuries commonly associated with sports. Yet, we are surprised when it happens to one of our own. Instead of being surprised, be prepared.

Injuries occur at the most inconvenient times, too. Right before big games or play-offs, in pre-season practices, during senior year, and other times that make you wonder, why now? Think back to your own life. No doubt there were setbacks at inopportune times that made you feel “unlucky” or “jinxed.” Now with the advantage of hindsight, did those setbacks impact your journey in ways that you regret? Or can you see the benefit of that detour that enriched your life in ways you did not imagine?

Injuries can be viewed similarly. Although abrupt, they create time and space for other significant growth to occur. Whenever our kids suffered physical setbacks, we framed them as being meaningful and potentially advantageous. We looked for how the timing might have been less than random, and allowed other areas of their lives to be tended to. Indeed I have said to my son, “Now is the time where inwardly your mental, emotional, and spiritual muscles can be strengthened to match the outward muscles you have worked to develop.”

As Madeline Levine has said, most people’s journeys are not from point A to point B. In retrospect, you have experiences that bear that out. She (and I) would encourage you to share those unexpected twists and turns with your own children. Have those examples ready when needed to reassure them that you also were faced with choices of how to respond to obstacles. Discuss with them how you are different, not destroyed, because of the detours. Help them reassess the gift of time they have received to use in ways that will cause them to be more effective, more competent, more prepared when the physical healing is complete.

Just a couple of weeks ago at the Masters, we got to witness the comeback championship performance of Tiger Woods. Tiger’s golf career spanning two decades has included being ranked No. 1 in the world for a record number of weeks, to experiencing back injuries and personal problems, to dropping out of the Top 1000 golfers. Recovering from four back surgeries, he won his fifth Masters (last in 2005). We can conjecture about what occurred during those long months and years away from the sport he loved, but I believe one thing is obvious. He now has the ability to deeply and authentically appreciate success as a result of the difficulties of the past. I also believe Tiger has a stronger sense of self because of the perseverance required to attain this renewed success. If we could see inside, we could measure the significant growth of muscles within that have developed to match the strong muscles Tiger has on the outside. Injuries are a part of the game. Don’t waste them.

Key Tips:

  • Prepare beforehand for your child’s potential sports injuries by reflecting on your own life’s path as a result of unexpected twists and turns.
  • When injury occurs, frame the obstacle as an opportunity to strengthen inwardly to include mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

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