Being a high performance female hockey coach and being a physiotherapist has brought an interesting view of sport and equally a unique perspective as a therapist. As a coach and therapist, I am always looking to enhance performance of both my athletes and patients. However, the approach is very different in each arena. So, what is the “right” approach? Not many coaches have the perspective of a therapist, likewise, not many therapists have the perspective of a coach. But, being able to see situations from both angles has been very eye opening.
As a coach, there’s nothing I hate more than watching one of my players, or any player for that matter, get hurt. Or worse, being pulled out of the sport to recover. As a therapist, my job is to help people rehabilitate after their injury and usually I find by the time athletes get to me, they’ve waited too long and the injury may be far worse than it should have been.
As a coach, I always tell my athletes to take care of their bodies, but my role is also to instill competitiveness and the drive to work hard. The discourse of sport may teach athletes to push beyond their limits and/or encourage them to “suck it up” when they get hurt. Often when an athlete is injured, they’re instructed by their coach to just ‘ice it’ and it will be better in a few days. As a therapist, I know that is not always the case. So with both of these titles and responsibilities, how do I bridge the gap?
The first step starts with awareness in minor hockey and any other minor sporting league. Coaches, managers, parents and athletes need to know the basics of injury prevention and the signs of an injury. Did you see the athlete get hurt? Are they favoring one side over another? Are they playing more tentatively than usual? Are they complaining, skipping drills or their shift? Is there bruising, swelling, redness, deformity? These are just some signs and symptoms that an injury has occurred.
From there, they also need to know who the best healthcare provider to see. Do they see a physio? A doctor? A chiropractor? If the athlete has a small injury, it may be okay to give it a day or two to heal. However, if one is unsure, the safest bet is to get it checked out. The key reasons to seek medical help is if there is a significant injury or impact to the head or neck, suspected broken bones, change in consciousness, significant or persistent pain. When it comes to injuries, particularly with children, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even a minor injury can have huge impact on performance and can put the athlete at risk for further injury.
As a coach, when I know playoffs are only a few weeks away, I need all of my athletes working at 100%. The average coach would think that rest or pushing through most injuries is sufficient. Some coaches may not even know their athletes are injured. Athletes are known not to disclose certain injuries for a variety of reasons – they didn’t want to bother their coach, they thought it would go away on its own, they don’t believe it to be a big deal, or they don’t want to miss playing time.
As a therapist, coach and former high performance athlete, I now know that there are a number of ways to keep athletes in the game. Rehab can exist alongside competition! All too often, ignoring the injury will eventually get the athlete on the bench.
The best advice I have - knowing both how coaches think and how therapists think -is that it’s important to take all injuries seriously. It doesn’t mean you have to go to the emergency room for every bruise, but make sure you’re caring for your body, you’re communicating with your coach if you are injured and that you are seeing the appropriate medical professionals as necessary.
If you’re not sure who can help, call and ask! As a physiotherapist, there are not many types of injuries we can’t treat or properly refer. We are always eager to help an athlete perform at their best and stay in the game.
If you’ve been injured and would like to seek an assessment from a physiotherapist, chiropractor or athletic therapy practitioner, please find a Lifemark clinic near you at www.lifemark.ca/locations