After suffering a torn ACL in his right knee last August while playing for the Houston Dynamo, goalkeeper Tally Hall knew he was in for a long recovery process. During that time, he was traded to Orlando City, an MLS expansion club preparing for its inaugural season. Now, nine months after his injury, the two-time MLS All-Star is preparing to make his return to the field at a time when his new club might very much need him, having started the season with only two wins out of its first ten games. Hall, who helped lead Houston to two consecutive MLS Cup Finals in 2011 and 2012, recognizes that it’s ultimately his coach’s decision on when he returns to the field, but feels confident that he has controlled what he could throughout the process. “I feel very comfortable in practice. I feel like I can explode going both ways… my movement isn’t hindered at all,” Hall said. “My job is to work hard and try to be the best goalkeeper on this team. When coach deems that to be the case, then I’ll be playing.” Throughout his recovery, Hall has focused his energy not on getting back to his old self, but on returning better than he was before. “For me, it’s been an opportunity to refocus, reenergize, get a different mindset on how I approach the game,” he said. “I think what I’m doing now is going to prepare me to be a better goalkeeper than what I was doing a year ago.”
No matter how severe, being injured is never easy. As a player, it’s normal to feel frustrated and even helpless dealing with something that can, at times, seem fundamentally out of your control. It’s common to hear things like “be patient” and “stay positive” throughout an injury, but this is certainly never easy, and the mental challenges can at times be more difficult than the physical ones. With any injury, accept the fact that your body will heal at its own speed, and recognize that your doctor, athletic trainer, and coach will make many of the decisions regarding whether or not you are fit to play again. In the meantime, acknowledge what is out of your control, and choose to focus on what is within your control. Communicate frequently with your trainer and coach to set realistic goals for yourself. Commit yourself fully to the physical therapy, and ask about other ways that can possibly help accelerate the physical recovery process, such as changing your nutrition or sleep habits. Hall’s approach to his own injury demonstrates the importance of viewing recovery as an opportunity for reconditioning, as opposed to rehabilitation. In other words, injuries, as frustrating as they might be, open the door for you to work on different parts of your game (e.g., leadership, tactical understanding of your position, other forms of fitness, etc.) that could help you return to the field a better player – physically and mentally – than you were before you left. Also, recognize that, despite your absence from the field, you can still fill an important role within the team. Use your time away from the field to be a leader, both vocally and by example. When you’re watching training or games from the sideline, offer encouragement and feedback to players on the field. Take seriously the physical exercises you’re able to do, while remaining as patient as possible, because while you understandably want to play as soon as possible, your teammates and coaches are relying on you to be at your best when you do return. Even after nine months, Hall’s job isn’t done, as he must earn his spot back in the lineup. Nevertheless, having navigated many of the physical and mental challenges of a long reconditioning process, he is well prepared to cope with any further challenges or lingering frustrations that he might face.
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