Episode 25 | Building Your ACL Team

Show Notes:

  • How to build your ACL team
  • Who should be on your ACL team
  • How to communicate with these team members
  • A bonus piece of advice I learned

What’s up guys, and welcome back to another episode on the ACL Athlete Podcast. Today, we’re talking about building your ACL team. You’ve injured your ACL and we’re going to talk about how to build your ACL team, who that might be, what to include, and who might not make that list. These are some of the things that I want to talk about today. But before we get started, do me a favor and head down and leave me a review for this podcast. Leave us some feedback that we can use and you’ll be entered along with other people who leave a review to have a consult call with me to talk about anything that you want related to your ACL rehab. I’ll be picking one person each month to be able to do this call with. Head down and leave us a review. Thank you. 

Onto today’s episode, building your ACL team. This is something that I think doesn’t get talked about a lot of what this looks like in this process. Typically, if you tear your ACL, you go to an orthopedic doctor, do you have surgery, do you not, you go to the physical therapist, you start doing rehab, and then maybe you work with a strength coach or you go on to back to sport. That’s kind of the process that it looks like for most people, just a few people involved, and that’s really it. When I beg to differ, it’s way different than what that looks like. 

I remember when I had my first ACL versus my second one. My high school one was way easier in terms of the process, even though it was all new, I was younger, more naive. I had my parents around. I had my brother around to help me. It was the summer. Teammates were around. I was still a part of sports going to practices and things like that, to be able to feel included. I felt like I didn’t have to do as much for myself. Sure, the rehab had to get all that stuff, get to PT, but I had my parents to help assist me. I had my friends come over since it was the summer. They would come and hang out with me. They would play video games with me. I remember this entire process. I even ate Chips Ahoy! cookies, like there are these specific ones that were peanut butter chocolate that were phenomenal. And they helped me get through my rehab. And also it helped me to gain some weight that had to take off. 

But comparing this to my college ACL tear where this was much harder. It was a harder experience in terms of just the process and logistics. My brother was around, but my parents didn’t know I was having the surgery. For those of you who don’t know, I had two ACL surgeries; one in high school, and then my second one was in college on my other knee. My parents did not know. And because of our financial situation and a lot of other things, I decided not to tell them. And my brother and I—just being with immigrant parents and stuff, we didn’t want to put the pressure on them. We decided to just kind of take it on our own. And then I would just tell them later that I had ACL surgery. So that’s what happened. 

I had my brother helped me on surgery day. But that was it. He had to go back and drive to Atlanta, which was over an hour away. And then I just had my college roommates there to help me with just some of the day-to-day stuff. This was right before Christmas break, so I had to wait. They all left for Christmas break to go see their families. I had to navigate everything mostly on my own, going to rehab and everything. It was just harder. I didn’t have a team necessarily to go to practices with. I had my roommates around, which was great. But other than that, it was a lot harder mentally for myself. You would think on the second go-around, you might know how to do things better. But even though I did, it was still harder. 

One of the things that really helped me with this later ACL rehab was that I worked for this physical therapy clinic where I actually did the rehab at. And so the PT that I worked with and the team there was amazing. They were like family to me. They were a big part of my support system during that time, as I was going through my second ACL rehab. This all brings it around to the ACL team that I’m talking about and building it.

Let’s start with, okay, the ACL injury happened, ensued the pain, the panic, the worry, what’s going on, anger, depression, frustration, and uncertainty about the next steps. And what about the future? Am I going to play again? Will I be the same? So much floods your mind. One thing that I just want to make clear in this process, especially with the things that I had just mentioned that you will feel and experience, is that one person is not going to be able to help fix all of this for you. And you’re not going to be able to do it on your own.

Typically, what happens next is you go and see an orthopedist. They decide, okay, is it surgery or no surgery. Maybe you’re given some time and hopefully, you’re doing some prehab. And then let’s say you do have surgery. So then you start your rehab right after that. And as I’ve mentioned before, this process is super long. It can be very challenging. It’s something that building a team in this process, especially early on, is going to be really important to make sure you can have the best outcome for your ACL rehab and recovery. And research even supports that. If you have a good community and a good support system through this process, you’re going to feel more empowered, more motivated, and you’re going to have a better recovery.

This is a big piece as to why we’re talking about this. Also, as a physical therapist, whenever everyone is involved and on the same page, it makes a dramatic difference in the athlete’s outcomes. The first thing I’m going to start this out with is that you have to be okay with getting help. I was very, very guilty of this in this process, where I didn’t always want help. I’m an incredibly stubborn person at times. I always wanted to figure it out on my own. I’m independent. I don’t need anyone’s help. But quickly, you will realize as soon as you can’t bend your knee and it’s hard for you to use the bathroom or get out of the bathtub, like all of these different things, you start to realize, “Okay, I might need a little bit of help.”

And then not to mention the mental aspect of this injury and recovery, it’s going to be crucial to make sure that you’re okay with being able to talk to somebody. You have to figure out initially what you want or need. And then you’re going to have to find the people who will help you in these aspects. It’s not very uncommon in this process to start to feel isolated, especially when you have so much downtime to rehab and to think and reflect, which some of that is not bad. But you want to make sure that you have your people in your community and not get so isolated and feel like you have to just do it all on your own. So that’s where your team comes in. 

These people can include your sports medicine team. So that could be your physical therapist, your orthopedic doctor that you’re working with and their team, an athletic trainer, or maybe there’s a sports psychologist involved. Just keep in mind, this is going to vary based on the resources you have available, as well as what level that you’re playing at, whether you’re a mom who’s just trying to get back to playing with her kids to a professional athlete. The resources and also the needs are going to be different based on your situation and your goals. We just cover the sports medicine team. 

Next up is family and friends so that’s parents, siblings, cousins, whoever you’re close to and who are around, your best friends, your teammates, might be your dog, and whoever it is that fall under the family and friends umbrella. And then you might have your sports performance side, which is your strength and conditioning coach, performance director, and sports coach. There are a number of people who can fall into this. But for the majority of people, this is what will be your ACL team or who you want to be on it. Some others that are dependent on your level might be a sports agent, sports science, management, or owner. As you can see, a lot of people can get involved in this process and can be assisting in it. But they can also be almost like a barrier or making this process harder. So that’s where it’s going to be important for you to be able to evaluate.

I am at the center of all of this, as the athlete who has torn their ACL. You’re at the center. And that means who is it that you want around you to be able to support you and to be able to make sure that you are on the path to make sure you have the best outcome possible. A lot of the time it’ll be the PT and orthopedic doc, and then you have your friends and family around you. You might have your sports coach. Those are typically the things that you’ll see. And what’s most important with this is that these people are going to help you with making decisions, whether that’s having the surgery, the type of grafts, should you wait, should you not. These people will help you to guide your rehab. So hopefully, you’re working with a physical therapist or a really good AT, who is working with you on your rehab, to be able to make sure that you are progressing appropriately. And you have a plan that is custom to you and that you’re getting the attention that you need. Maybe you need family and friends to be able to help you stay motivated, to create some accountability, and to check in on you. And that’s something that’s going to be very important with this is keeping them involved in the process as much as you want. After working with so many people and going through this process myself with this ACL injury. 

One thing that I just want to know is that you want to be mindful of your friends, your family, and maybe your coaches who might want to help, but might not know how. It’s one of those things where, let’s say, for example, a family member passes or some sort of weird negative thing happens to somebody. It’s sometimes difficult to know how to respond and say the right things. Sometimes maybe you need to just kind of step in and just talk to them and let them know like, “Hey, I need your support,” or “This is how you could really help me.” I know that this comes from a place that could be very vulnerable. It could be from a place where it’s hard, especially if you’re someone who wants to take care of these things by yourself without trying to get other people involved. But trust me, you’re going to need them and they might not know how to help you. So help them help you. Just talk to them and be open.

A lot of times it comes down to you, as the athlete, are probably thinking, well, why aren’t they talking to me about this? Or maybe please leave me alone. And on their end, they might be thinking, well, maybe I need to act concerned, or maybe I need to distance myself. So that comes down to communication, which is my next point, which is so important and it’ll really help in this process with your team, whether it’s with your surgeon, with your physical therapist, your strength coach, your performance director, with your family, all of these pieces together. There’s no one more important than the other. It’s all on an equal playing field, and everyone involved in this process that you want to be is very important. And I’ll give you an example of this.

I’ll be hopping on a call with a surgeon and a performance coach for an athlete that I’m working with to game-plan the outcome together. We don’t want to operate blindly and we want to make sure that this professional athlete can get back to where she is, and that we’re all on the same page and on the same team. Making sure that we are working on the best outcome for this athlete. If you’ve got PTs and surgeons and other coaches who are all working in these silos, if there’s some way to bring them together or just to ask like, “Hey, can you connect with so and so?” They should be happy to do that. And if not, then you might just want to look elsewhere because it’s going to be so important for you to be able to get the best outcome.

All right. As we wind this down, there is one bonus or one thing that I want to leave you guys with to really think about and it might seem a little cheesy. But if you’re going through the process or you’re about to go through this process, trust me on this that you’ll want this. And that is to have one person in mind. You know who you can count on to help. Meaning your emotional support or venting support that you can talk to, whether it’s a best friend or a teammate. It might be your mom, it might be a sibling. Find someone that is going to be helpful in this process that you can call, especially on the days when things just suck and you are feeling like giving up. You don’t think that you’re going to make it back to where you were or to the goals that you have. You’re going to have some of those days, I’m sorry to tell you. Have that one person in mind that you can talk to who is your rock, who is your support that you can make sure you vent to. I promise it will do you a big favor as you’re going through this process.

All right, guys, so let’s wrap this up. We are talking about building your ACL team. This can have a range of people, anywhere from your sports medicine team, which includes maybe your PT, the orthopedist, your athletic trainer, sports psychologist; to family and friends, parents, siblings, best friends, teammates; to sports performance, strength coach, sports coach, and then there are other people that can also be involved in this process. Just make sure that you are at the center of all of this, and that everyone is on the same page as you approach this. Be okay with getting help. Don’t allow yourself to get too isolated and just don’t make any assumptions thinking that people might not want to be involved. If you need them, then just talk to them. It might just be hard for them to know how to help you. Some of that might have to come from you to initiate it. 

And then communication is at the core of all of this. Making sure that everyone’s on the same page, making sure that your PT and surgeon and everyone else involved knows the game plan, and that you’re also aware of the game plan in helping to make the decision, ultimately. And then have that one person you know you can count on to make a call.

So that’s it for today, everyone. Just as a reminder, each month I’m picking one person to have a free strategy call. All you have to do is sign up for our newsletter, which is down in the show notes, and then leave us a review. It shouldn’t take too long. Please do that. It really helps us to be able to get more exposure to other ACL athletes just like you. We really do appreciate it.

Thank you all so much for listening to the ACL Athlete Podcast. This is your host, Ravi Patel, signing off.

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