Play Through The Pain? | Responsible Coaches and Sports Parents Weigh In

Posted: October 6, 2011 in Better Health and Fitness
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In recent weeks, Dallas Cowboys NFL quarterback Tony Romo played with fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Sports writers hailed him as a ‘warrior’, a ‘true competitor’, a ‘guy committed to his team.’ The next week, he is outfitted for a special protective vest and takes multiple injections throughout the game to dull the pain. His teammates say it shows ‘true will’, ‘handles it like a champ’ and shows that he is an ‘ultimate teammate’. He’s lauded as ‘old school’ and not being there would have been ‘letting down the team’.

A potent combination of self-imposed pressure and societal expectations combine to create the belief that ‘great athletes play through the pain.’ But is this really a measure of greatness we want our youth athletes to emulate?

This month, the Responsible Sports Team asks: how do you manage the will of the player against the safety measures of the league, team, coaches and parents?

Thanks to a host of medical research and an army of advocates and champions, youth sports continues to strive towards better safety equipment and measures for our athletes. Recent media attentions around the dangers of concussions have created youth football sideline protocols. Overuse injury concern has created pitch count limits. Conditioning programs have advanced to help youth athletes prevent common injuries. As Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents, you’re committed to using the best equipment together with the best training and conditioning to ensure your athletes’ safety.

But our youth athletes watch and listen to professional athletes talk playing through the pain, and they hear sports commentators laud those athletes. They hear athletes ask for greater protection against injury, yet those same athletes rush their rehabilitation to be back on the field. The inspirational quote above the locker-room from Vince Lombardi reinforces it: “The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.”

It’s believed that each year more than 3.5 million youth athletes under the age of 15 suffer an injury in sports that is serious enough to need medical attention. That’s one in ten athletes that should or will need medical assistance. But not all of these players are sitting on the bench the next week. Many of them quickly return to the game, not wanting to lose their starting position or risk missing a college scout watching them in the stands. They want to be like their favorite stars: the champion who plays through the pain.

So how do we as parents and coaches manage the will of the player and their desire to play, despite advice (medical or otherwise) that counsels them to rest and heal from an injury?

Managing the will of the player to play hurt can occur through using the principles of Positive Coaching Alliance. When athletes and coaches redefine winning by focusing on mastery (rather than on scoreboard results), it’s easier to understand that playing hurt doesn’t help master the sport any better. When teams commit to honoring the game, especially their teammates (part of the ROOTS acronym), then injured players can better see that their teammates deserve a healthy teammate on the field. Athletes committed to being a Triple-Impact Competitor® (in the words of Jim Thompson and PCA) who, among other things, seek to make their teammates better, recognize the opportunity they provide a teammate by sitting out when injured. And they recognize that their leadership is just as powerful on the sideline as on the field. Changing the way we talk about winning and losing, competing, team and teammates all lend themselves to opportunities to change the way our athletes think about sport and hopefully their will to play hurt.

But we want to hear from you. How do you handle the will of players against your concern for their safety? How do you help athletes learn that playing through the pain might not be a good idea? How do you handle the situation when a key player becomes hurt in a critical game? Join us on Facebook and let us know what you think. Or email us at We’d really like to hear from you – and we’d like to share your thoughts and insights with fellow Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents.

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  2. […] Play Through The Pain? | Responsible Coaches and Sports Parents Weigh In ( […]

  3. […] Play Through The Pain? | Responsible Coaches and Sports Parents Weigh In ( […]

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