If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over? – John Wooden
Injury affects an individual’s continuity; a teams’ cohesion and at times its’ win loss record. Understandably, this is why athletes and their coaches can be so impatient in the event that one occurs. Worth noting however, is that one the most influential risk factors for injury is previous injury.
The combination of these risk factors and the collective culture of impatience toward injury and rehabilitation can create dangerous forces which often work in direct opposition to the desired outcome (healthy, fit, resilient athletes) for both athletes and coaches, as well as those responsible for managing the athletes recovery.
I liken this impatience to that which causes the monkey to be caught in the monkey trap. The trap allows just enough space for the monkey to reach their arm down the tube to grab an enticingly presented banana. However once they grab the banana and make a fist, they are stuck and can be easily captured by trainers. The monkey could easily liberate themselves at any moment by dropping the banana though their obsession serves to ensure their captivity.
The time pressure created by impatience can cause athletes and their coaches to overlook or ignore the consequences of getting it wrong and create a situation of ‘willful blindness’ (a term used in law for when an individual deliberately creates a scenario where they will be unaware of facts which may influence actions in a way they wish to avoid).
In my experience with injury and athletes in sport, prudence costs less than recurrence. The injured athlete should spend no longer than necessary rehabilitating their injury, though no less than what is required to ensure their risk of recurrence is sufficiently mitigated and their physical capability has been restored to a level that will allow them to contribute. It is not enough to be ready to play, the athlete must be ready to perform. The recurrence of injury costs athletes and their teams far more over the course of a competition or season, than the extra time it may take to ensure their rehab is completed in a comprehensive manner.
I believe an athletes progression should be based on merit, rather than on time (except in the situation where tissue healing times must be respected). Though this approach does not automatically assume things take longer. On the contrary, merit based progression can open up the possibility for the athlete to progress faster than the ‘average’ (which is usually the basis for recommendations influenced by time) due to their diligence and professionalism, and or their exceptional healing capacity.
A merit based approach asks the question ‘what can our indicators tell us to inform our decision’ whereas a time based approach leads to the assumption that in set period of time all our indicators are where we need them. A merit based approach facilitates feedback whereas a time based approach negates it. The professional needs to ensure they have solid, formal, structures and systems in place which provide all concerned with objective and relevant information specific to the individual and their injury. The access of this information will inform and influence a more rational decision-making process while managing the ‘monkey trap’ mindset that can be prevalent in sport.