The hardest part about coming back from an injury is regaining the confidence to compete again at 100%. I can remember getting hurt my junior year with a minor hamstring injury. After rehabbing a couple weeks and coming back, mentally, I just was not in the same state as when I first started that season. In reality I had no pain and could run without feeling super tight in the injured area but in the back of my mind I was afraid of reinjuring myself. It took me all they way until the end of the season, about 4 months, to have the confidence to run with no fear and hit a season best, but it didn’t need to take that long. Part of the reason I felt this way was because I had the thought in the back of my mind that I was rushed back to running a little too quickly. Mentally I think I needed maybe one more week of lighter running to calm my mind before jumping back in to practice. My whole season might have been different if I had one more week. One more week to test out my leg and mentally be confident and be sure I felt ready.
I got a chance to see how something like this would affect someone when I ran into an issue with one of my athletes last year. He is a guy who tends to do better with the longer endurance workouts. He isn’t one of my speed quarter milers so he needed some speed work that week and I wanted to ease him into some fast 200s. Around rep 4 of 6 his hammy got tight, but he finished it, so I had him go to the trainer’s office and they informed us that he might have a mild strain. Now I know he wanted to run but conference was on Friday of the next week and it was Tuesday of the week before and we had a big relay meet that Friday. I had 2 options rest him and try to get him back by Friday or let him get his confidence back and come back naturally for conference the next week. I did the latter. I told him not to run at all until that Saturday. Once Saturday came I wanted him to run a light 10 min jog and tell me how it went. It went well so I told him I was putting the week before conference in his hands for the most part. Come to practice tell me what he felt comfortable doing, and we would discuss options for practice that day. Monday, he went for 20 min long run, Tuesday we both decided on 6x 300m with 100m jog rest and Wednesday another long run. I told him I wanted him to feel confident and in control if he didn’t feel comfortable, say something, or adjust the pace. At the end of the week come conference he felt like he was back 100 percent and was ready to run fast. I wasn’t worried about his fitness because he was already a good strength quarter miler. We went to conference and he ran a personal best in the finals of the 400m.
To me the obvious approach was to let him feel in control and confident in what he was doing because I had been there before. I basically gave him a basic premise of what I wanted him to do and how to approach it, but I let him dictate intensity and his confidence grew because he wasn’t being forced to participate at a level he felt he wasn’t ready for.
Communication and knowing your athletes is key. If building confidence and their ability to understand their bodies is your goal I’d encourage you to try to give them some freedom no matter how young the athlete to test their bodies and relay their results and feelings to you. It does much more than some people realize and can help them better gauge what level of intensity they can handle especially when injured or returning from an injury.
About the Author
Clayton Parros, USA Track
Clayton Parros was born in Los Angeles California, and raised in New Jersey. As a part of The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Track and field Program he was named ACC Champion 5 times, All-ACC 11 times, and was also an all American. Post Collegiately he achieved World Champion status as a part of the team USA 4x400m relay, Penn relays Champion, IAAF World Relay Champion, NACAC 4x400m Champion and USA Indoor 300m Runner up. Clayton is USATF Coaching Certified and has studied and trained under world-class coaches namely Derrick White (coach of Joanna Atkins and Quinera Hayes), Lance Brauman (coach of Tyson Gay, Marvin Bracy, Tori Bowie, Shaunae Miller and many others). He also studied strength and conditioning under Andre Woodert (former strength and conditioning coach of Allyson Felix). Currently he is in his first year of coaching at East Carolina University and is involved with the Sprints and Hurdles.