Playing hurt – a coach’s dilemma

About a week ago Coach Greg wrote to me to tell about his team’s performance in an early spring tournament. They came in second, which was a great start to their season. Along the way, though, he brought up an interesting topic.

It seems that one of his pitchers had hurt her wrist. Greg knew it was painful but the girl said she was ok to go, and she wound up pitching four innings. Later she went to get the wrist checked out and discovered it wasn’t just sprained but broken.

Greg said had he known the injury was that severe he would never have allowed her to pitch. The girl probably knew it too, soo she hid the true degree of her injury from him. Therein lies the dilemma.

As coaches, we have to rely on what our players tell us regarding injuries. We can try to test it, of course, but without formal medical training we’re really just guessing. The mind can be a powerful thing, even when it comes to pain. If a player wants to play bad enough, she may be able to push pain out of her mind in order to stay on the field.

The problem is pain is there for a reason. It’s our body’s way of warning us that something is wrong, and that we should cease whatever we’re doing before it gets worse. When we ignore those signs we do so at our own peril.

While there is a very small percentage of coaches who would knowingly allow a player to play with a major injury if they thought it meant winning a big game or a tournament, most would not. The key word is knowingly.

In the end, you have to follow your gut. I’ve certainly allowed players to play on serious injuries because I’ve wanted to believe them when they said they weren’t hurt too badly. But somewhere deep down inside I knew.

Players who are wincing every time they perform a skill, or who are favoring an arm, leg, or whatever are hurt enough to come out. Better to get them out now than risk more serious damage to their careers or their bodies down the road. They may not like it, but there’s a point where you cease being tough and instead are just being stupid.

By the way, this also applies to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Players who are sick to their stomachs, dizzy, pale, etc. have no place on the field. Take care of them even when they’re not willing to take care of themselves. It’s your responsibility as coach.

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