Injured Warriors: When Girls Have to Leave the Game

Is hope a muscle? Do girls have more of it than boys?

Lots of people think so. We know girls have hope and determination. Since Title IX, we’ve been thrilled to see girls play team sports. The extraordinary achievements of the Amherst, Massachusetts’ girls basketball teams, the Williams sisters who changed tennis, the skaters and gymnasts, but also the soccer players and track stars. Girls soccer made soccer moms of many reluctant women. It is no surprise now when girls want in the game and to be taken seriously as athletes. We’ve started to believe anything is possible for our daughters. We are supposed to be proud. We are not supposed to be afraid.

There are other things we know about girls that make them take to sports differently. Anxious to please teammates, girls also know how to ignore their bodies. Little girls can break bones or get tendonitis. And girls often get too thin.

For example, recent studies suggest that female athletes are more likely to injure their knees than men and to ignore the doctor’s and coach’s instructions to rest. The affiliative nature of girls sports means that girls can be at higher risk for re-injuring themselves. Rather than worrying, we exult in their strength.

What I see now is that when girls are injured, their athleticism screeches to a halt and causes mental anguish. Girls gain weight without exercise. Girls grow depressed and blame themselves. Girls do not have other outlets for the feelings they are used to releasing through the daily grind of training. A sense of worthlessness sets in.

Injuries in girls and women athletes are often the start of depression and an accompanying distortion of body image. A strong swimmer hates her shoulders. A ballerina cannot see her hip bones and panics. Some athletes may also enjoy losing their periods for months at a time—not understanding the danger.

We have got to prepare girls—as we would boys—to succeed in sports. We must also prepare them injuries they may sustain. Sports injuries often have different meanings for girls—and different complications.

For more on this subject, I recommend Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports by Michael Sokolove. For information on girls and knee injuries and what girls need to know to prevent knee injuries, please visit ACL Prevent.

Please email me if you are interested to know when I may be speaking on this topic.

info@harvardsquaretherapy.com

Photo credit: kurros

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