What to say to a seriously injured player

Recently, I broke my wrist playing Ultimate. It’s probably the most severe injury I’ve had in my 10 year Ultimate career, putting me out for a few months in the middle of a pretty intense WUCC campaign with Colony Ultimate.

The silver lining is it's ‘only’ my left hand. I can't imagine what it's like to deal with something as serious as an ACL tear, at least I can still kind of run and throw, but I feel like I've gotten a taste.

In the weeks following my surgery, I had countless conversations with people from the community about my injury. Everyone I talked to meant well and had my best wishes at heart, but inevitably continuously recounting an extremely negative experience and its consequences became counter-productive to keeping a positive mental state. As such I felt the need to bash out some some quick tips to help your friends physically and emotionally survive their injuries.

Inside the mind of an injured player

Generally speaking, an injured player’s mind will be in a varying state of turmoil. Self pitying and largely pointless questions are bouncing around with unsettling, insecure thoughts along the lines of:

  • What if I had subbed off that point?

  • Why me?

  • When will I be able to play again?

  • Is my team pissed at me?

  • Did they even need me?

  • Will I be able to return to the same level of play?

  • Will I ever be able to play again?

It takes a lot to overcome the fatigue, sadness, and even anger that sets into the body and mind post-injury, especially if there’s an operation involved. Uncertainty is the real killer here. Athletes are often very process driven and frequently in these situations the results and timelines are largely out of your control. Resetting the mind on a productive course is challenging and takes time. Until a new routine is established, a productive mindset can be unstable and the smallest things can push you backwards or off-track.

So what sort of comments should I stay away from?

This may be obvious, but stay away from exclamations over the severity of the injury. Comments like “Holy shit, it’s so swollen,” “OMG, look at that thing,” or “Wow, that’ll take a while to heal!” might seem funny, but are pretty unproductive unless you’re a close friend.

Do they owe you an explanation?

For many, the first instinct is to ask about the injury, how it incurred, and how long the recovery is. This comes from a good place, but remember that the injured person in question has likely explained this countless times before you. They’ve already had to deal with doctors, family, close friends, and teammates. If you don’t fall into any of the above, odds are they're a little tired of reiterating something that's constantly on their mind anyway so try and get the information from elsewhere.

If I can’t talk about the injury, what can I say?

Just treat them as if they were a normal person, which they are. Stick to regular topics of conversation and, if they bring up the injury, take that as your cue to delve further.

If you’ve suffered a similar injury, try empathising with them. Joke about the peripheral issues that come with losing utility of a limb. For wrist injuries on guys, people tend to dive straight into masturbation jokes, but even that is a welcome change to giving a play-by-play recount of the injury.

Ultimate occupies a large part of any serious player’s identity and having that stripped away, even for a short period of time, is extremely unsettling. Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes before you speak.

How can I help?

Invite them to social outings. Being injured often means you’re skipping regular social time. Injuries can be lonely times, especially if you’re unable to walk or drive. See if they want to hangout near their home or are open to team bonding time at their house.

Ensure they have something outside of Ultimate to focus on. Everyone, regardless of their current healthiness, benefits from a side-hobby away from Ultimate. Our sport is great, but it also so quickly occupies all facets of our lives. Offer to go to a pottery class with them, or a bushwalk or really just anything fun that’s not Ultimate-related.

Ensure they stick with their rehab, and help to normalise it by offering to do it with them. Rehab exercises are often frustrating and show little return, but are often useful in preventing that same injury on yourself. Exercise is always less tedious with company and you get bonus gains for helping a friend out.

Injuries are an inevitability in our sport but with a little thought to what we say and how we act around our injured compatriots, time spent crippled on the sideline needn’t be so tedious.