blog2016My teenage kids are both fighting sports injuries. One a bad knee and one a painful shin splint. My husband and I grew up in the “No Pain-No Gain” era, and we have the mentality to fight through pain to practice and play, sometimes beyond what is good for our bodies. Our kids inherited that same mentality but they have learned that it is not always the best way. They have both checked with doctors and are taking short breaks.

No Pain -No Gain” should mean to push yourself to your limit and beyond, not to play until you are injured, though it’s not always easy to differentiate between the two. Pushing yourself can be painful, but it should not be harmful. As a former college athlete I understand that “No Pain – No Gain” focuses on the mental ability to push through things that make you uncomfortable, one of those being pain. Hurting because one works their muscles and lungs beyond what they are accustomed to is different than feeling a pain that is way outside the norm, but often kids (and some adults) don’t understand or know their limits. Sometimes they quit when they are capable of more, or at times push when they should stop. I occasionally play when I shouldn’t, pushing through knee pain and tendonitis and sprained wrists and ankles, but nothing I can’t tape up and live with. Injuries that aren’t likely to cause permanent damage. How can young athletes know the difference?

The key to figuring out this fine line is communication. Young athletes must be open with those around them about how their body is feeling. With pressure from coaches, parents and themselves, it can be hard, but it is important to be honest. Talk about the pain or injury. There may be times when a kid wants an excuse to do nothing, when a coach is frustrated because they want a player on the court or that a parent pushes too hard, but all involved must remind themselves that in the end the goal is to keep the athlete safe. And if, from a discussion you find that an athlete’s pain is too intense, ongoing, or different than usual, have them see a doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. I hate spending money to learn that ice and ibuprofen would do the trick as I expected, but then again it’s better than the alternative, a serious injury that doesn’t get addressed.

And if you keep the lines of communication open about body and mind there can be unexpected results. I coached my daughter in high school and she pushed herself everyday and never complained. There were times I wondered why she gasped for breath so much after she would run.  It didn’t quite seem right but there was no noticeable reason, I knew she was in good shape. At one point in the season we talked about some pain she was having after receiving a hard elbow to the chest, I thought that it was probably a pulled muscle in her rib cage, but when it continued to bother her we had it checked out. To our surprise, and totally unrelated to the rib pain, we found that she had a hole in her heart. The answer to the being winded after running. She had surgery to fix the hole (something that could have been life-threatening down the road) and I was reminded that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Coaches, trainers, doctors and parents are there to support young athletes and help them understand the difference between pain from pushing one’s body and pain from injury, so that the athlete can remain healthy and learn one of the greatest lessons that comes from being involved in athletics; how to push oneself beyond what one thinks is possible.

Once an athlete learns this on the court, or on the field, or on any sports arena, they will feel that strength in their heart and soul and understand that they are capable of more than they ever thought, and be reminded that their possibilities are as endless as their dreams.