Emotional Rehab; What They Don't Tell You About ACL Recovery

​For some people sports are a hobby.  Yet, for me, I began my soccer career at 3 years old and immediately fell in love.  At the start of my journey I was unclear of what connected me to the game, but as the years progressed I learned that not many things in my life could stimulate a sensation of satisfaction like playing soccer.  The game grew to be my life, my love, and my passion – captivating my core desires for physical challenge, competition, and most importantly creativity, which I consider to be the soul of the game.
My love for soccer propelled me in my journey to play for teams at the Premier Youth, ODP, Region I, NCAA Division I, and Semi-Professional levels.  Within these environments I competed in 5 National Championships, received several individual honors, and made lifelong friends.  Yet, in all of my experiences of success, the most emotionally memorable and impactful moment was when I was diagnosed with a torn ACL and sentenced to a minimum of 6 months separated from the thing I love most in life.

​As you can imagine, a serious injury like a torn ACL devastated me in ways that I did not know possible.  I was just 15 years old at the time of my first ACL reconstruction – a critical age for physical and social development, and more importantly (at the time), recruiting.  I questioned whether the new me – Amanda with a torn ACL – was the same player with the same skills and the same spirit as I had before the injury.  I had so many fears and doubts and wondered, Am I fast anymore?  Who have I become? Will I achieve my goals?  The questions I asked were deep and direct challenges to my identity, my self-worth, and my confidence to attack new heights – not only in playing soccer, but also in life.
With a resilient level of drive and commitment I was physically able to meet the challenges of recovery and successfully got recruited to play soccer at Princeton University.  Looking back – after a BA in Psychology, studies in Mental Health Counseling, and an MA in Sport and Exercise Psychology – I understand now that I lagged in my mental rehab and can attribute my sincere underachievement in college soccer to troubles with self-esteem and confidence.  In fact, the experiences I had at Princeton were indispensably inspirational for me to pursue continued education where I could learn the intricacies of how social and emotional affect influence physical performance.
My career as a Certified Mental Skills Consultant is founded with a sincere desire to help young players feel confident and reach their potential.  Moreover – as I studied mental consulting I was compelled to prove that I could master the skills that I teach, which is why 3 years after college I decided to play semi-professional soccer with the LI Rough Riders.  Performing at what I believe to be the very top of my game I never imagined that it would happen again – in the second game of my 2014 season, at 28 years old, I tore my other ACL and faced a very humbling reality that my career in organized soccer has come to an end.
The devastation of this second bout surprisingly surpassed what I overcame when I was 15, young, and resilient.  This time there was no team to work back to and no goal of being recruited – it was the end and it wasn’t by choice.  Although I was becoming proficient in mental coaching, my knowledge couldn’t possibly change my emotional experience of the injury.  The physical, social, and emotional pain was just the same, if not worse.  Without Princeton, without playing pro, would I stay connected to the game I’ve loved for a lifetime? Or do I walk away and let it go?
Not surprisingly, my attachment to the game won out and I enthusiastically aimed to test and prove that emotional rehab is essential to physical recovery.  Specifically, I worked really hard to apply multiple mental skills including staying emotionally aware, accepting my reality, trusting in the process, and focusing on what I could do (not what I couldn’t do).  Easy enough to say and list, but the critical component to executing these skills was my commitment to the process of journaling – which I did throughout an entire year of my recovery.
I am writing to you all today to attempt to communicate the tremendous impact that emotional rehab had on my ability to regain confidence and return to play as if nothing happened.  In reality, both injury experiences were long and tested my desire, my motivation, and ultimately my love of the game.  I learned that I could love something deeply and passionately – and know it – but that my positive affect did not exonerate me from overwhelming internal disputes and internal fears and doubts.
Today I play nearly every day of the week with a group of adult competitive men and I never worry about my knee, nor do I feel pain or weakness.  In fact I feel more discomfort in my first ACL reconstruction, which convinces me even more of the profound impact that emotional rehab can have on a quick, confident, and strong return to play (Crossman, 1997).
For me, I feel ironically fortunate to have had the opportunity to look within myself and understand what it truly means to be committed and learn how to persist when my body says ‘you can’t.’  I no longer have a college to get recruited to, I don’t have a pro team to play for, I don’t have a championship to win or a team to support – it’s just me and the game that I love.  And I feel happy, satisfied, and look forward to every opportunity that I have to play.  It is now time for me to impart what I’ve learned and help all of you as we journey back to the field!

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