How to come back from injury as a BETTER player
5 easy-to-follow steps to use your injury as a catalyst for improvement
Most footballers have to deal with an injury at some point in their career. The difference between them is the way they deal with those injuries.
For some players, an injury can mean the end. For others, it can be an opportunity that allows them to come back even stronger and lead them to more success.
Who am I /Being Injured For One Year
Just to give you a bit of context of who’s talking to you right now. My name is Corbi and I’m part of Train Effective. During my teenage years, I played at the highest youth levels both in Germany and the United States. When I was 13, I dealt with multiple injuries at once that kept me from playing for almost 12 months and led to me being kicked out of the Elite Football school of Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich. After a long rehabilitation period, I was able to bounce back stronger/better than before the injury and ended up playing for the De Anza Force Academy in California (#1 youth team in the US at the time).
The following guide is designed to show you how some of the best players in the world were able to not just overcome severe (and even life-threatening) injuries/problems but use them for growth and improvement. And by the end of it, I’m confident you’ll be able to do the same!
The Two Pains of Injuries
“(It was) a pain I will remember for life”, Eric Abidal, FC Barcelona, cancer
“I should be there (playing)”, Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal London, double-leg fracture.
“I don’t want to be here (alive) anymore”, Luke Shaw, Manchester United, double-leg fracture.
The above quotes represent the two types of pains that usually come with every injury.
First, there’s obviously the physical pain, usually in one of your limbs. You might have a double-leg fracture like Aaron Ramsey and Luke Shaw or even something as bad as cancer like Eric Abidal. This is the pain that everybody thinks about when they hear about someone having an injury.
But only if you go through one yourself, do you learn about the second type of pain. The type that is usually quite a bit stronger and that keeps you up at night…
I’m obviously talking about the emotional pain that always comes hand-in-hand with the physical pain. Especially if you’re a motivated player with big dreams and aspirations. This can come in the form of loneliness, being left out of your team. A fear of not being able to recover fully and having to give up on your dreams. And the awful feeling of sitting on the sidelines, not being able to play and losing valuable time in the pursuit of your goals.
Whether you have all of those feelings right now or just one or two of them, this pain is probably one of the reasons why you’re reading this here and are looking for answers.
The Five Steps To Use An Injury As A Catalyst For Improvement
For a big portion of aspiring footballers, a bad injury means the end of their careers.
The sad part of that is not the fact that they get injured, but the fact that it’s not the injuries themselves that are the problem. The problem is the players themselves.
They see the injury as an insurmountable obstacle that destroys their hopes of playing professionally one day, instead of what it really is….an OPPORTUNITY for growth and improvement!
1. Fix Your Mindset
The #1 thing that you need to do if you want to come back from injury as a better player, is you need to fix your mindset!
If you’re just sitting on the couch, playing Fortnite all day and feeling pity for yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. You will miss out on the opportunity right in front of you and your injury will indeed only just stop you and slow you down.
You need to start taking responsibility for all the things you can control!
Sure, someone else might have tackled you and that’s why you’re injured or the doctor said you can’t play for x-number of weeks/months but blaming others for your situation and feeling like you can’t do anything about it, is just simply going to make you lose.
You see, there are hundreds of things that you could do right now (and we’ll talk about them in the next steps) that would allow you to recover quicker and come back better than you’ve ever been. But you need to be able to see that first.
An injury is not a vacation or an invitation to do nothing, but rather the exact opposite. It’s a challenge you either accept or don’t accept, and that needs to be met with extreme levels of discipline and hard work. Only if you’re able to do that, you can experience the growth and improvement that comes with the challenge.
This is the mindset that players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Francesco Totti and Petr Cech had and that allowed them to not just get back to their old levels but even surpass them. So stop whining and blaming and focus on the things you can control!
In this step lies massive opportunity. It’s one of the things that so few players do, (especially when injured) that if you do it, you will gain a huge advantage.
This is where you make that shift that we talked about in the first step and will start seeing the injury as an opportunity rather than an annoying obstacle.
The main advantage that you have during an injury over your teammates (and most players in the world) is time. And that time can be used to work on things that other players can’t. Need to improve your weak (not injured) foot? Great, you have time to do that. Lacking strength? Perfect time to change that.
You get the point. Instead of having to go through team practices/matches, that focus mainly on the team. You can now completely focus on you and what you need to get to the next level.
To start with, take half an hour, just sit down with a pen and paper and really reflect on the last months. What are your weaknesses in football? What do you still need to improve on to get to the next level? Write everything down. Then give every skill a rating out of 10 of how important it is for your development.
Now you should have a list of skills that you need to develop and you’ve prioritised which ones are more important and which ones are less important.
Obviously, there will be things that you can’t do, because of your injury. So just make sure you focus on the highest rated skill on the list that you’re able to work on.
Common examples are strength, weak foot, tactical intelligence, stamina etc. And sometimes you just need to be a bit more creative to work around your injuries, e.g. swimming/biking to improve stamina, if you can’t run.
3. Goal Setting
The third step is all about looking ahead and creating a timeline for both your recovery goals, as well as your overall career goals.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal midfielder, suffered a double-leg fracture when he was just starting to make his move from the bench into the first team.
During the long, monotonous days of gym sessions, Ramsey remained motivated through the boring routine by constantly setting himself goals. “The first three months were the hardest, in that gym, doing little things, where you don’t think they are doing much to you. But you had to do them, and I think they have paid off eventually. I just took it day by day at the time, and set me a target for the end of each week. Every day, I saw improvements.”
You need to do the same thing.
By which date do you want to be able to run again? When do want to complete your first team training? When do you want to make your comeback etc.?
Another amazing example of how powerful it is to have such specific goals is Francesco Totti. In 2006, he was highly anticipating the World Cup in Germany, which would be his last international tournament. So when he broke his leg and tore multiple ligaments in a Serie A match in February, he was obviously extremely disappointed. An injury of that calibre usually takes six to nine months to heal, so the Italians were certain that they would have to play without one of their key players in the summer. But the fact that he really wanted to make it to the World Cup and that he set himself the goal of being there, even though everyone around him told him it’s not possible, finally allowed him to come back after only four months, playing all seven matches during the tournament and winning the World Cup against France!
But you should go even further! After you will have made your comeback, what are the next goals that you want to achieve? Is it becoming the best player on your team? Getting into a professional youth academy? Earning a professional contract?
Whatever it is, make sure you set the right goals for your current situation and write them down, so you can always look at them and check whether you’re on the right path or slacking off.
4. Relevant Content
Great! Let’s assume you have set your goals, both recovery and improvement goals, and are motivated to reach them. What next? How are you going to reach them? Should you just go to the field/gym and do a few exercises that feel like they might help?
Unless you’re already playing at a really high level and/or have experience with recovering from your type of injury, that’s probably a bad idea. You might worsen your injury and waste a lot of time doing exercises that don’t get you anywhere. So what should you do?
Well, the simple answer is, you need to find exercises/drills that will help you reach your specific goals in the least amount of time and that are proven to work!
But how do you that? I would suggest three options:
1. A coach at your club that has played at the level that you want to get to and that is willing to share his knowledge/tips with you.
This is probably the easiest/cheapest option but these coaches don’t exist in every club.
2. Hire a private-coach that has played professionally.
While this is probably the most expensive option, it can be really effective in helping you reach your goals. Just make sure you hire the right one!
3. Join an online academy.
This could be a great choice if you’re not willing to pay thousands of dollars for a private coach and don’t have any ex-professional players around you that are willing to help you. One example would be Train Effective, that we’ve established a few years ago. Here you get access to hundreds of drills/exercises created by ex-professional players and performance analysis videos by Premier League analysts! So you know exactly what you need to do and you can be assured that it works. On top of that, you also benefit from a community of motivated players that push each other to greater success.
All three options could work. You just need to decide, which one is best for you and your situation. But in any case, if you want to make the most of your “forced injury break” and take the next step in your career, there’s no way around learning from the top coaches/experts. Otherwise, you won’t have a chance against the players that are already in top-academies and have access to that type of content 24/7.
Just keep in mind, whatever option you choose, make sure you check with your physician that you’re not doing anything that could prolong/worsen your injury!
5. Hard Work
Ok, so you fixed your mindset, reflected on what you can improve while injured, set your goals and have figured out a plan with exercises that let you reach your goals. There’s only one thing left….execution! All the prior steps mean absolutely nothing if you don’t do the required work.
Is it difficult? Sure. Does it take discipline to get it done? Absolutely. But if you’re not willing to work harder than 99.9% of players, it’s going to be difficult to compete with them when you come back from your injury and you certainly have no business dreaming about playing professionally one day.
Just to give you an example of how much Zlatan Ibrahimovic worked during his recovery from a torn ACL last year, read this quote, “ The only secret has been working hard. Those close to me know what I have been doing – I was working five, six hours a day. When it happened I said to everybody giving up was not an option. My only focus was on coming back and coming back better. For that, you need to work hard.”
Keep in mind, Ibrahimovic was already 36 at the time and had been one of the best players in the world for over a century. Yet he still put in that much work every day. So if you’re a 16-year old amateur player that dreams of playing professionally one day, maybe that can put things into perspective…
I know it can be difficult to find the time when you have school and other responsibilities but it can be done ( learn how to train 30 hrs/wk & still get straight A’s ). It all depends on your desire and your priorities. So if you really want it, go and get it.
The Path Ahead
If you’ve made it until here, congrats! You already show the right mentality that it takes to complete all the steps above.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s still not going to be easy. You’re going to have ups and downs and the two pains we talked about in the beginning will make it a rough ride.
When I was badly injured at age 13, I remember it was very difficult to stay disciplined and go through rehabilitation every day. Especially when there aren’t that many people that support you. I had no real network of coaches that I could seek advice from and that would help me get back on track. And I know most players don’t. Especially the mental aspect was very challenging for me and I could have really used some help from someone who’s gone through similar problems.
When I joined Train Effective last year, one of the main motivators was being able to help players in such positions. Together with the experience of ex-professional players like John Moses, Premier League analysts like Steve Corns and under the direction of Nick Humphries, we’ve built an incredible platform that does exactly that: Help.
We’ve witnessed incredible stories of members going from average, amateur players to playing at the highest possible levels, including players at professional youth academies (New York City FC), full-blown professionals (1. FC Köln) and even in the Europa League alongside Nicklas Bendtner (Rosenborg BK). But most importantly our players have built up an unshakeable confidence in life to reach any goal they desire. And we will continue doing everything possible to help as many people as possible reach their dreams.
Me and the Effective Fam are all rooting for you!