Most athletes, at some point in their athletic career, encounter an injury to some extent. The intensity and duration of the injury may vary significantly from one situation to the next, but there seems to be an overriding theme to injuries. It is seemingly undeniable that with any physical injury there is a set of challenges an athlete will face, and these challenges include a mental component. Not only is it frustrating for athletes to battle back from an injury, but also the pressure to do so in a hurry makes a bad situation worse. USA Today released an article that tackles this topic from the standpoint of an NFL quarterback. It could be argued that the most important position in football is the quarterback. If you do not agree with that, you could most certainly agree that they are at least one of the top most important positions. Tony Romo, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, currently faces the physical and mental challenges presented with an injury. Romo took a painful knee to the back that caused a great deal of pain to a location that is injury-prone already. After taking a pain killing injection, he returned to play in overtime. Coach Jerry Jones relayed the message that Romo was facing a “function of pain tolerance” and that “nothing medically would prevent him from playing” in upcoming games. Knowingly or not, coach Jones put a substantial amount of pressure on his quarterback for his teammates, fans, and all of the NFL to hear.

In any situation of physical injury, the dependence on physicians and athlete’s collaboration in final decision-making is crucial–regardless of sport, age, gender, or position. The philosophy behind this opinion is rooted in one single fact: the athlete is the only one who knows how they feel, and physicians are the ones that are able to help them determine what is best for their health. This pressure is placed on athletes of all ages, whether it is parents pushing them back in the game or coaches questioning their toughness. In reality, toughness may have nothing to do with it. You may have the toughest person in the world, but even they would not be able to play a game of football with a broken leg. The challenges that injuries present are great enough, but to add additional pressure on an athlete to return can have countless bad outcomes. So how do you help an athlete through injury?

Ask them questions–and genuinely care to hear the answers.

Most athletes that struggle with injury appreciate someone who cares to see them getting better. By asking them how their recovery is progressing and if there is anything you can do to help reminds them that they have a support system.

Be conscious of your judgments.

It is natural to make judgments in any situation. It is what helps us interpret the world around us and the opinions we have about it. The ability to recognize yourself making judgments and to determine if they are justified is a great skill. In this case, know that you may have an opinion about an athlete and their injury, but at the end of the day you are not inside their body and mind.  No one can tell someone else how they feel.

Alleviate the pressure, do not apply it.

The last thing athletes want is pressure to get back in the game. More often than not, the athlete wants more than anyone to be back in. Reminding them that they are missing out on the sport they love is of no help. Allow them to process the injury without convincing them that they are weak. If anything, remind them that there is no pressure in rushing back. Ironically enough, this might get them back faster.

These small skills are a few that can be useful when encountering those dealing with injury. The next time you encounter an injury, whether it be your own or someone else’s, remember to practice being conscious and not critical. The pain of injury is enough in itself–look to help heal it, not hinder it.