Should Players Play Through Injury? – By Daniel Scarpino
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Pride is one of the cornerstones that make players who they are. Being grateful for their unique talent, having a passion for their sport, possessing a competitive attitude, and never giving up regardless of the circumstances are all things that help make GOOD players. As coaches, we cherish these values and foster these types of players tremendously. Indirectly, we as coaches should always find ways to exemplify these values that players possess and psychologically instill those same values in others. Pride, in and of itself, is something that we admire to the fullest as players and as coaches. It is absolutely true that there are some players who have so much pride that they are willing to play through an injury. The mentality here is, “If I can walk, I can play/compete”. Two questions that will be answered in this article before we make a rational conclusion are: 1) Is it possible for players to play through an injury? 2) Should coaches allow this to happen?

#1) Is it possible for players to play through an injury? – Yes, it is! Just because a player is injured, does not physically mean that they are incapable of playing. Players who are injured can hobble around the playing area, even if they seemingly can’t do a thing to impact the game. There have been events where I myself have had pulled groins, pulled hamstrings, fractured a foot, had headaches/migraines, and sprained ankles and still was capable of playing – definitely not to the best of my ability, but I managed. Am I saying that what I did was right? – Not by a long shot – In fact, I was completely wrong and selfish for doing it, regardless if we ended up winning. This put me, my coaches, and my parents at risk, and that is simply not okay. I want to point out that being injured does not mean that a player cannot mask the pain and hide it. Sure, sometimes players who play injured stick out like a sore thumb, but other times, you would never know that they were injured unless they said something. So, to the naive people and coaches who think that it’s impossible for a player to play through an injury – sadly, you’re mistaken. It happens more than you know and I can almost guarantee that if you have been coaching at the competitive level for even a short period of time, that you’ve had a player play through an injury and not tell you about it.

#2) Should coaches allow players to play through an injury? – Absolutely not! The number one thing that we as coaches are responsible for are the HEALTH, SAFETY, and WELL-BEING of our players. If this isn’t your main priority, then you need to either change your ways or stop coaching altogether – And yes, this means that you need to take this more serious than winning and looking good in your track pants and team polo. If you are not taking your player’s injuries seriously, especially if they disclose with you that they are injured, then you are failing to uphold one of the core values that coaching encompasses. You cannot fluff off a player injury. I don’t care if they are your star player, your captain, someone who scores you 4 goals a game, averages a triple-double, makes 20 tackles or shatters track records – if they are legitimately injured – THEY DO NOT PLAY! By allowing a player to play through an injury, you, as a coach, are asking for trouble. If something bad happens to that player (i.e.- They pick up a further injury or even worse, a season ending or career ending injury), then guess what – It’s on YOU as the coach. Player health, safety, and well-being is at the absolute forefront of what we do as coaches – And believe me, the good coaches do A LOT in addition to ensuring the 3 standards of care! If you are negligent in your duty to care for the players that you coach, then you can-and-will be held liable if something serious occurs. Do not get caught up in trying to win so badly that you neglect your player’s most basic and fundamental needs.

Having learned what we sought, we can rationally and objectively conclude that players should not play through an injury. This may seem like common knowledge to some, but I can guarantee that there are MANY coaches out there and maybe even some coaches reading this that allow players to play through their injuries. It is the coaches obligation and duty to ensure that the health, safety, and well-being of their players are being upheld and protected at all times. If a player is legitimately injured, is physically laboring, and cannot perform the way that they are capable due to their ailment – Then they do not play. Kid yourself not – You will have players at some point in your coaching career hide their injuries from you. I am not talking about being a little bit sore, feeling tired, or having some body aches – I am talking about a legitimate injury that inhibits them from doing anything sport-related without pain. It’s unfortunate, really, if a player plays through an injury and doesn’t tell you about it or if you don’t notice it – Technically speaking, this isn’t your fault as a coach, but it is troublesome for everyone involved. This is why player check-ins before, during, and after practices/games are so crucial. You, as a coach, need to know how your players are doing physically and mentally. If something does not seem right or if a player tells you that something isn’t right, you as a coach must do the following:

  • Document what was said, what happened, what the status of that player is, the time it occurred, the date that it happened, and if anything came of the incident
  • Contact and tell their parents/guardians detail-for-detail what you think or what you know. Speak with the parents/guardians in a face-to-face conversation, via phone call, or email
  • Continue to follow up with that player, ensuring they are getting the rest, recovery, and proper treatment that they need
  • Get doctors note if the injury is serious enough that it keeps them away from playing/practicing for an extended period of time – Any doctors visit that requires the player to take time off from playing requires that you as a coach get a doctors note before that player can return to practice/play

It is our privilege to coach young people in their playing careers. It is our absolute greatest responsibility to ensure that we are protecting our players in all respects. Do not shrug off an injury to a player, do not ignore it, and do not treat it lightly. This is the livelihood of people who, along with their parents/guardians, have entrusted that we will uphold and honor a standard and duty of care. Players should never play through injury and coaches should never fail to realize this.