Key ingredients to injury comebacks: Staying patient, positive

Out of sight, out of mind isn’t just how the NBA spends a good chunk of August and September. It’s how the league’s injured players spend much of their time during the season when the toil and drudgery of their rehab, therapy and drills takes place largely out of the public eye.

Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com explored some of the mental and physical challenges faced by players whose seasons gets interrupted and livelihoods get threatened by significant injuries. It’s not a happy process for anyone involved, but the key for the players, staff and medical personnel involved appears to be staying patient and positive.

Easier said than done, as Kennedy notes:

Entering the 2016-17 NBA campaign, a number of notable players are returning to the court after suffering a significant injury last season. This includes big-name stars such as Anthony Davis (left knee), Blake Griffin (left quad), Chris Paul (right hand), John Wall (both knees) and Marc Gasol (right foot).

When a player goes through an intense rehab regimen, it can drastically change their body. This forces them to make adjustments once they’re healthy enough to play again. Dan Barto, who has trained over 100 NBA players as the Head Skills Trainer at the famed IMG Academy in Florida, has seen this happen many times as a player makes a comeback.

“Any time an athlete misses an extended period of time, they typically come back and work extremely hard, but they’re working with a new body and an old mind,” Barto explained to Basketball Insiders. “When they get back on the court, these ultra-athletic guys have a bunch of very strong muscles from the rehab they’ve done, so their old movement patterns and old reactionary on-court moves put pressure on different areas that their body isn’t used to.”

Synching everything up again is essential, the trainer said:

Barto has a strict order he follows as he eases a player back from an injury.

“What we do when a player is cleared – and I’ve even done this for players who are overweight and trying to get back into shape – is we do a lot of shooting first,” Barto said. “Then, we do jogging. Then, we add some ball-handling and moves. Then, we add jumping and, finally, some contact. If a doctor says you’re going to be out eight months due to an ACL injury, I’ve always said, ‘You need to take nine or 10 months before returning.’ “

Controlling the player’s expectations – never mind the front office’s or those of his fans – is another must on the to-do list:

[There’s] the mental side of recovering from a serious injury. Not every player can be like Adrian Peterson or Paul George, putting their serious injury behind them and having an amazing bounce-back season right away. Some players struggle with the fear of re-injury. Others are hesitant to duplicate their pre-injury style of play (consciously or not). Mental hurdles are extremely common for a player who is trying to return to form

In fact, when talking to current and former NBA players, the majority said that recovering mentally was the toughest part of their comeback.

“Physically it’s hard, but through rehab you regain the strength and stability that was lost; however, the biggest obstacles are mental,” NBA champion Chauncey Billups told Basketball Insiders. “You have to rebuild your confidence. You not only have to prove to the team and the fans that you’re back but, more importantly, you have to prove it to yourself. Being injured has a way of chipping away at one’s confidence. When you cross that bridge [and regain your confidence], you’re back.”

It’s a worthwhile read, particularly at a time of year when a lot of NBA fans feel as sidelined as an injured star.

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