You put in a ton of hard work last off-season and were poised to make some noise this year. Then—ack!—the injury hit. Now you're in the training room instead of on the field with your teammates, and you don't know what to do.
Injuries suck, but many of the greatest athletes of all time have had to overcome serious ones. And in an uplifting number of cases, those athletes have been able to return to the field and perform just as well as they did before they got hurt—if not better. If you're recovering from an injury, you're facing a tough physical and psychological battle, but follow these six tips—which are taken directly from the experience of other athletes who've made successful comebacks—and you'll be better able to conquer your injury situation and come back better than ever. Check out the video above to find out how Drew Brees came back stronger than ever after suffering a severe shoulder injury.
Step 1: Accept It
When you've suffered a season-ending injury, feeling as if you are in shock is normal. But after a day or two, you have to accept the situation and get in the mindset necessary to start your work to get back on the field. After suffering a season-ending knee injury in September 2008, Tom Brady told The Fan 590 in Toronto, "The tough part is you're not experiencing something you love to do … But you get over that and focus on what you've got to focus on, and you just say 'Ok, well, it happened. We're moving on.'" Brady returned the following season and went on to be named the 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Step 2: Look at Rehab as a New Challenge
As an athlete, you are used to taking on adversity. After Dominique Wilkins ruptured his Achilles tendon in the middle of the 1991-1992 NBA season, many doubted he could ever be the same type of player again. But Wilkins decided to view the injury not as a curse, but as a new sort of challenge.
Wilkins spoke about the injury to Grantland, saying, "I always believed that obstacles were put in front of you to go over or around, and that's the attitude you have to have to get back from injury." Wilkins averaged nearly 30 points per game the next season.
Step 3: Set Short-Term Goals
Drew Brees dislocated his throwing shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season, just before his contract expired. He became a free agent with a bum wing on the arm that mattered most for his position. So how did he end up leading the league in passing and finishing second in the MVP voting the very next season? By setting attainable and progressive goals. "I had to take it one day at a time. I set short-term goals for myself," Brees told STACK.
Brees' trainer, Todd Durkin, recalls how far he came. "It took months. It was baby steps," Durkin said. "I remember he'd show up in front of my house on a Sunday and just throw 5 yards to me. Nice and easy." Brees was forced to start completely over, focusing on tiny movements and fundamentals until he was back to 100 percent. The work was tedious, but the rebuilding process helped Brees become a better overall quarterback. "Now I look back on [the injury], and I say it's probably the best thing that ever happened to me," Brees said.
Step 4: Patience is a Virtue
Adrian Peterson made a freakishly fast recovery from an ACL tear, returning to the field in less than a year and subsequently posting an MVP-caliber season that left doctors, players and coaches scratching their heads. The rest of us, however, aren't likely to recover from an injury nearly so quickly, and the worst thing you can do is rush back into things and risk re-injuring yourself. Three-time Pro-Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew, whose 2012 season was cut short by a Lisfranc injury, told Yahoo Sports, "You want to move quickly, but you have to let your body respond to certain things. Guys come back too quick and they get hurt again. I'm going to let it heal and when it's time to play, I'll push it then."
Similarly, hyper-competitive San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers told STACK that patience in rehab is difficult but essential. In the midst of rehabbing a torn ACL, Rivers said "The hardest thing is having the patience, and understanding that it's going to come. I feel like 'well I can bend it all the way, I can straighten it all the way, I can walk on the treadmill, I can do leg press, so why can't I go (all out)?' You've just got to understand that it takes time." Rivers' patience allowed him to come back stronger than ever, and he led the league in touchdown passes and passer rating during the season following his injury.
Step 5: Stay a Part of Your Team
Even though you are hurt, you should be at every meeting, workout, practice and game. Off the field, hang out with your teammates. On the field, encourage them and cheer them on. If you're an older player, help the younger guys in any way possible. It won't just help to keep your own spirits up, it will help the team succeed.
Three-time All Star and Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter was out for nearly all of the 2011 season, but he remained a leader and model teammate throughout, helping the Cardinals to reach the World Series. Carpenter told Yahoo Sports that he followed a motto that season of "It's not just about [me]. It's about the ball club…the [team]."
Step 6: Always Listen to your Doctors, Coaches and Trainers
Sometimes athletes' competitive fire can get the best of them, leading to immature or irrational decisions regarding injuries. We know you like to call your own shots, but trust the people who are helping you with your recovery and rehab. If they're telling you to take it easy, they have your best interests in mind. They want to see you back to doing what you love just as badly as you do. And with their help, you'll get there.
RELATED: Recovering From Injury: The Basics
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