Episode 67 | Kelsey Griffith – Mental Skills Specialist and Fellow ACL Athlete – Part 1

Show Notes:

Kelsey suffered multiple ankle injuries and an ACL tear in her pursuit of her professional dance goals. Now, four years after her ACL recovery, she has developed a comprehensive approach to injury recovery that she calls mental skills training. Kelsey has her Masters in sport and exercise psychology and serves as the Performance Enhancement and Rehabilitation Specialist at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, an affiliate of Boston Children’s Hospital—Division of Sports Medicine. She joined the team nearly seven years ago and works alongside injury prevention specialists and physicians to support the whole athlete. Kelsey believes that training the mental game is essential in unlocking the athlete’s full potential, both on and off the field. Her work aims to help each athlete navigate the maze of mental challenges associated with sport to better reach self-determined goals and optimal performance.

In this, the first of a two-part episode series, Kelsey and I discussed

  • Her background as a dancer and shifting into Sport & Exercise Psychology
  • How her injuries and surgeries have given her valuable insight into sports rehab
  • A healthy mindset to physical rehab
  • The value of recording small wins during the rehab process
  • What mental skills training is and who it is for
  • How a proactive approach with mental skills training helps athletes prepare for injuries before they happen
  • Encouraging atheletes to understand who they are outside of sport
  • The process of mental skills training and the importance of having goals


Tune in next week for part two with Kelsey Griffith.

Ravi Patel: Welcome back guys to the ACL Athlete Podcast. This is your host, Ravi Patel. And today, I am so excited we have guest Kelsey Griffith on the show. Kelsey has her master’s in sports and exercise psychology. Kelsey serves as the performance enhancement and rehabilitation specialist at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, an affiliate of Boston Children’s Hospital, Division of Sports Medicine. She joined the team nearly seven years ago and works alongside injury prevention specialists and physicians to support the whole athlete. Kelsey believes that training the mental game is essential in unlocking the athlete’s full potential, both on and off the field. Her work aims to help each athlete navigate the maze of mental challenges associated with sports to better reach self-determined goals and optimal performance. Kelsey, thank you so much for being here and welcome to the show. 

Kelsey Griffith: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited. 

Ravi Patel: Kelsey, first off, do you mind sharing with our audience a little bit about your background and how you got into mindset and mental performance?

Kelsey Griffith: Absolutely. It’s kind of a long and winding road. One, I never really knew existed when I was in college, and two I’ve never really anticipated finding myself in this world. I danced all my life. I was a gymnast prior to dancing. I went to college for dance and planned on dancing professionally afterwards or at least trying to. The summer before my senior year of college, I had to have an ankle surgery that essentially took me out of the game, kind of just wonky, unexpected. But afterwards, after three surgeries, actually I still moved to New York. I was like, I’m doing this. I’m dancing. I’m going to make it work. And I moved to New York. I hadn’t danced regularly for probably a year, and I was like it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And pretty quickly upon getting to New York, I realized I needed a job, I needed insurance. All of those fabulous adulty-ish things. And was lucky enough to actually find myself working for a physical therapy company called PhysioArts Physical Therapy. They were located right in midtown and their job was to help Broadway performers, which was super cool. That was kind of the world I wanted to be in professionally as a performer. The term I often use to describe myself is I’m respectfully scrappy. I know how to work my way into circumstances that are going to be both beneficial to me and the people I’m working for. So knowing they work for Broadway, I was like, hey, maybe they can fix my ankle, that would be lovely. I can network with people. And actually, at that point, I was debating going into physical therapy as well. It was kind of a trifold benefit. While I was there, it was not in a good head space at all and I started realizing that there had to be more associated with my rehab than just the physical piece. At that point, I’d been in PT for over a year. My mindset was nothing was working. Why am I wasting my time on this? Even though I really being the best of the best. I was like it’s not making a difference. It doesn’t matter. Why continue to money… I wasn’t, which was a really interesting thing to experience personally.

But then what I also started recognizing was that the Broadway performers coming into the facility very much seemed to be in the same sort of head space. Their livelihood depended on the fact that their bodies worked and when they didn’t it was incredibly detrimental to their sense of identity, their day-to-day existence living in New York City. My boss at the time, Jenny Green, was awesome and was like, go and get your degree, find a program that works for you. You always have a job here. And so I started pursuing my master’s in sports psychology. I went to Springfield College and got my master’s there. 

My kind of plan professionally has certainly morphed as many people experience. I initially had wanted to work from an educational lens providing almost curriculum to young athletes, be it at professional dance schools, etc., to help give them information tools and strategies on how to develop a functional mindset in their dance career. To say, okay, you are a whole person. How do we tackle things like confidence, resilience, and failure, particularly in these sorts of aesthetic sports where perfection is at the forefront always. 

But then I started to realize that I could actually take the things I was doing and apply them to athletes like myself who had gone through injury and weren’t in a good head space and really needed to have these concrete tools to navigate the challenges that they were experiencing. A whole lot of personal experience folded into the education piece and then The Micheli Center. My surgeon, who is unbelievable, Dr. Micheli… my ankle surgery. All three of them. While I was living in New York, The Micheli Center opened. I’d always joked like, “I’m gonna work for that man someday.” And so here I am, again now, like seven years later, working for one of the most prominent figures in sports medicine in the country, which is pretty cool. 

Ravi Patel: That’s such an awesome journey. And I think it’s one of those things that lead us to our own personal experiences, especially with your ankle injuries and surgeries, especially three ankle surgeries that really played a huge role in your development, as well as seeing a lot of these athletes that you were seeing, whether it was in the physical therapy clinic or interacting with that, really were having a lot of issues on the mental side of things and then you just were like, I’m just going to dive straight into this. 

Kelsey Griffith: I took a big jump. I remember when I first started pursuing my career after grad school and everyone was like, “This is so cool, you’re paving the way.” And I was like, “You know, it’d be great if someone could cut the trees down for me, and then it came away.” But it’s really incredible. I’ve actually been talking with a number of people as of late, the difference in the conversation around mental skills, resilience, and all of that in the last seven years is crazy. We’re hearing it so much more now. And I do think the future of mental skills training and mental health as a whole, it’s going to be far more commonplace. The discussions are happening on how to better integrate these sorts of things for not just athletes, but humans overall. 

Ravi Patel: And that’s what’s going to be so interesting to see, especially in the future and even now. Mental health mindset is such a big component of life, to injury and being able to make sure that we have these skills available and these different tactics to be able to make sure that we make the right steps and to be able to tackle these different issues that we’re dealing with. Before we like to jump straight into some of these strategies. You’re a fellow, ACL athlete. 

Kelsey Griffith: I certainly am. I know I started with the ankle surgery. I haven’t even gotten into the other stuff. 

Ravi Patel: Most of our listeners are ACL athletes, coaches, clinicians, or parents who are associated with someone with an ACL injury. Tell us your ACL story and your experience going through this process. 

Kelsey Griffith: It is quite a beast. Sports injury has always been really fascinating to me because I think about mental health. If one person has anxiety and the other person has anxiety, those experiences can be so dramatically different. And attending to each individual’s needs is so important in the progress of care. From a sports injury standpoint, I think one of the unique things that happen for athletes is there is a shared understanding of what it means to be sidelined. Which is why, I mean, again, having gone through it myself, after those ankle injuries, I was like, I got this. I know what this is. I know how hard it is. And then I tore my ACL and I was like, holy smokes. This is a whole different animal. And so interestingly, I had finally gotten back to dance after. I had an ankle injury, then I had a back injury. Collectively, those things took me about like six years, a long story for another day. 

I had finally gotten back to dancing actually at my home studio. I was tapping with my former teacher and two of my good friends and former dance classmates, essentially. We were in performance. It was the 25th anniversary of the studio. We did it through the tap piece. It was great, fabulous. And then we were in the finale and they were doing a big, huge ensemble number. And the first thing I did, I come down from a jump. There was a little kid because we hadn’t all been on stage together yet. A little kid in front of me who didn’t quite know where she was supposed to be. And midair, I tried to back myself up so I wouldn’t kick her. And when I came down, I went down… and knew probably too much. A lot of my friends are physical therapists, so I’m texting everyone. One of the dancers I was with at the time, was a physical therapist. Knew pretty quickly it wasn’t good. I was incredibly fortunate, I mean, I was working at Children’s at the time. And that happened Friday night. Monday morning, I was ushered into one of our amazing sports medicine physicians right at The Micheli Center. From there, I ended up MRI that night. It all happened really, really quickly. 

Now interestingly, I ended up—one of our surgeons who’s actually now the chief of sports medicine, Dr. Martha Murray, had developed a new protocol for ACL surgery called the BEAR Protocol, which is the bridge-enhanced ACL repair. At the time, while still in trial, they’re looking to see over time how people are doing with the protocol. But basically, I regrew my A C L, which is super cool. I think, again, Dr. Murray, I know has been going around, talking about BEAR, the benefits to it. As an adult active person, I was lucky to not have this immediate sense of urgency to get back to something. I was a prime candidate to do the BEAR protocol. It did take a little bit longer. I couldn’t drive for 12 weeks because it was my right leg. Fortunately, my mom was local, so I was able to stay with her. But again, it was a super humbling experience, having to go at 29 years old, back to my mom’s for a very long time. Love her dearly, she was incredibly supportive, but it was hard. It was really hard, and getting back to work. Again, lucky to work for Children’s, working for The Micheli Center. They know this, they see this, and they are incredibly accommodating. I did PT up the hill for a little while and I did recover and return to sports training with our strength and conditioning specialists, situationally. It couldn’t have been better. But it was hard, it was exhausting, it was scary, it was frustrating, it was isolating. Everything just felt really heavy for a while. 

Ravi Patel: For sure. We take for granted the ability to drive. 

Kelsey Griffith: I literally can’t go to the store to get this birthday card, and even to get in the car with my mom. Because with the BEAR protocol, your knee has to be locked straight for much longer than you would normally. It was the middle of summer, and every time I did anything I was sweating by the time I got home and I just sent my mom to pick out a birthday card. It was just so weird to have to switch back into that very kind of helpless place. 

Ravi Patel: It is so hard and we take that for granted, like just the ability to drive or the ability to walk around or get a birthday card. For you guys listening, the BEAR procedure is a very unique procedure that is still pretty early in terms of research and development. Not the typical normal recovery path for ACL. There’s some promising results with this and it’s a very unique population where it’s just an ACL injury and they come and repair it together. And there have been some promising results just super early. And it’s cool to be able to talk to Kelsey about this. And she’s gone through this process and has been a good candidate for it. And it sounds like it has worked out pretty well in your favor.

Kelsey Griffith: Yeah, it’s been really cool. I will be followed for a total of six years, crazy. This July will actually be four. I remember when they said six years and I was like, oh, that’s so far away. And now the two-year timeline we’ve been living in, certainly sped up that timeline a little bit. Every time they do the MRIs to check things are in a really great spot. The ligament continues to get stronger which is really cool to see. Because of my circumstances to be able to be a part of that and contribute to that foundation of knowledge was really exciting. 

Ravi Patel: I feel like you’re in such a unique place with one, with the mental skills side of things. But then also going through the process yourself of an ACL injury as you’ve been going through this or you’re four years out now, as you were early in this process. How was your mindset? Was this something where you were starting to integrate all of this education and mental skills training that you had learned? Or is this something where you weren’t immune to this, it was like very much impacting you depending on the parts of the process. 

Kelsey Griffith: That’s a great question. Occasionally, my mom would do the, what would you say to your clients, to which I of course responded, not so favorably in those moments. I certainly even given my profession, was not immune to the challenges that come with this injury retrospectively. I’m able to look back and I think better use my experience to help other people than I probably was able to help myself, particularly in regards to finding the wins. I talk about it all the time. Even amidst things when they’re the worst that you feel like they could ever be find the good stuff. 

And so the example I always give, I wanted a pair of shorts, I had tickets to go see Kenny Chesney and I refused to give up my tickets and I wanted a pair of shorts because I knew they’d be like, easy to put on with my brace, nice and light for 4,000 degrees summer heat even in New England. My mom took me to the mall. She’s like, all right, are you sure you wanna do this? I’m like, yes, let’s do it. I’m ready. I have to get out of the house. And she dropped me at the door. This was the mall I’d gone to my entire life and could walk through with my eyes closed. I got into the store, which was as close to the entrance as it could have been. Tried on the shorts, and got out. And by the time I had done that, my mom had dropped me, parked the car, gone and done four other errands, and gotten back to the car to get me at the door. It felt impossible. This thing that should have been, again, like getting the birthday card so easy, I was sweating. This wasn’t worth it. Why did I do this? And again, my mom wonderfully pointed out, did you get the shorts? I was like, yes, I got off the shorts. Setting those small goals had to become so important.

What is the thing I want to do today? Whether it’s to take a shower by myself, whether to get and figure out how to get water back to the couch. I became very good. I got cup holders from my crutch. Those were wins. I also met a lot of friends. They thought the cupholder on the crutch was super cool. Amazon is great. You can find anything you need. It was hard and I would say the wins were the biggest thing, really keeping tabs on one thing a day that felt good. Whether it was, oh, today, I actually could go get the birthday card, or even though my mom had to drive me, I got the card, or even though that experience of buying the shorts was the most exhausting thing I had done in six months, I still accomplish the task I set out to do.

Ravi Patel: And I love that so much, finding the wins, especially celebrating the small wins. Talking with most of my athletes, one of the things… it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of just the ACL injury and recovery and just feel like it’s such a long road and such a long process. In order to start to try and move the needle, it’s really important to start focusing and celebrating those small wins. And even if it’s just the small things like you got 10 degrees on your flexion, or you’re able to go and get the shorts that you want. Types of things, it’s those things that are going to help us kind of continue to keep that momentum going, especially in this really long process. 

Kelsey Griffith: Well, and it’s interesting. I think with longer running injuries like ACL. One of the things I talk to my athletes about a lot is we always want more. When you’re stuck on the couch, all you want to do is be able to walk to the bathroom and take a shower on your own. That’s it. You’re like, I would give anything to be able to do that. And then you get there and we immediately forget that that was something we wanted so badly. And then all we want is the next thing. Gosh, this is horrible. I can’t even do X, whatever X is. And then we get to X and then all I want to do is run and I can’t run. And then we get to running and it’s like all I want to do is be able to play my sport and we erase the progress along the way. I really encourage athletes, anyone going through this injury or any injury, not to erase those wins. Write it down because when you’re wanting to get back to your sport, when you’re six months, you’re looking down the line, you’re seeing that sport coming, hopefully not too far away. You’re going to forget all of the stuff you’ve gone through and all of the wins you’ve already had because you don’t have that one thing. Make sure you remember all the things because it will help you recognize the work you’re putting in matters, which then continues to motivate you forward.

Ravi Patel: It’s those small little 1% changes that continue to keep that going. And that’s so important, especially for you ACL athletes listening, is to try to just record these small wins every single day. One thing I’ll ask my athletes on a weekly basis is, what was a win from the past week or even from your day, and being able to journal this is so important to keep tabs on it. And if you have an ongoing list or even go into your notes section in your iPhone and then just start a running list of all the wins no matter how small it is to be able to keep track and see where you’ve been. Because like you said, Kelsey, it’s very normal in human behavior to want the next thing. And so this could be a good and simple strategy to use to make sure you also appreciate the work that you put in and all the things that you have accomplished. 

Kelsey Griffith: Phones are the best and worst tool I’m sure, for parents, and for my athletes to have because it’s easy, it’s right there. You have it all the time. Just keep a running list. Also, social media has been a really interesting platform. A lot of my ACL athletes start an ACL account to track their progress. It’s a community, right? You find people who are going through that and to feel that support in other athletes and non-athletes who are going through it to know, oh, I can celebrate the fact that like I always sat down on a toilet. Again, those little things. I sat down on the toilet and I didn’t have to maneuver my leg around X, Y, and Z to do it. Oh, that should be exciting and it’s okay that I’m excited about that and so and so also just felt that way. The social media community I think around ACL in particular is really remarkable. 

Ravi Patel: It’s really cool. We had Jordan on the podcast a while back. Jordan Angeli with the ACL Club. And even the ACL Club, being able to follow that and see what they’re doing. And it’s an incredible community of athletes who are going through this specific injury. And it’s one of those things where you can feel really isolated. It’s one of those where you’re like, is anyone else dealing with the same things that I’m dealing with? And it’s not just some sort of shoulder pain that goes away or you work through, this is just such a different injury. The community itself is so important to be able to connect with that. With that said, I want to shift, so with mental performance and mental skills training, what exactly is it and who’s it for? 

Kelsey Griffith: Great question. Mental skills training is designed to help athletes develop strategies to navigate adversity in sports and performance. I always joke when I give presentations. I think people expect that I talk about puppies and rainbows and happy things all day. And I say my job is actually quite the opposite to say, sports performance, injury, rehab, it’s hard. Let’s make sure we have the tools to handle things when it’s hard. Mental skills training is essential in helping the athlete achieve optimal performance, both on and off the field. And I think I, I recently was part of a book chapter with some colleagues. One of the things we focused a lot on was the art and the science of mental skills training, which I think is a really nice way to approach the field because we do is evidentially backed by research. And yet so much of our job is taking those things that research has found to be effective; things like goal-setting, self-talk, imagery, all of these strategies that help provide athletes with concrete tools. But then knowing how to meet the client where they are, knowing how to adapt the plan when needed, knowing that what we need is different than what the athlete might need that day or what we expect the athlete to need.

I think one of the things I really like to emphasize, and I know Ravi, you, and I have spoken about this, is that mental skills training is not just for people who are already in the hole. A lot of times I see clients when they’re coming to me, whether it’s performance-based or injury-based when things are already really hard. And then we’re digging them out and we certainly can. I think there can be immense progress when we’re digging out because we’re starting kind of so deep anyways, that like providing any sort of strategy and tool to help handle that adversity can feel kind of monumental.

 But, my goal is to help make mental skills training proactive. To exist in a world and in a facility like The Micheli Center as an injury prevention facility. To say like, this can happen before there’s a problem before you’re in a hole so that then when you run into the challenges, you’re ready for it. Instead of getting to the challenge and being like, oh gosh, something’s wrong. And I think, talk about mindset when all of a sudden you’re going through ACL and a physician four months in recognizes that the athlete is struggling mentally, then it’s like, I’m broken and I need to be fixed rather than, no, this is hard. Let’s recognize you’re going to PT for months and months and months on end. It’s going to be challenging so let’s give you all of the tools, both mentally and physically, to be ready for that. 

Ravi Patel: I love that so much. And it’s the whole concept of being proactive rather than reactive. This is something that can happen just in healthcare in general, where it’s like we’re waiting to get sick or waiting for it to happen, and then we’re like, oh, let’s react to this instead. Especially when we notice these certain trends, especially with the athletes who are dealing with injuries like this, we know that these types of things can really set in. How can we get in front of this and how can we make sure we’re not only attacking because obviously it’s a physical injury? So then that’s where a lot of the focus goes. But then there’s the whole mental piece to it to make sure that we are attacking this from the front and not just waiting, like you said, three months in or even six months in to be able to react to it. 

Kelsey Griffith: Well, and I think another interesting piece and something that’s certainly come to light for me in my work throughout these last two years with Covid. Sport for so many, is like the optimal coping tool. In the pandemic, from a mental health standpoint, many of my athletes who were high-functioning, high-achieving individuals, all of a sudden sport was gone and they didn’t have the resources they needed to be able to cope with stress from school, stress from the pandemic, isolation, etc. And the same thing goes with injury. These kids who like sport is the place they get to go after school. It’s an outlet. It’s social. There’s so much that goes into being an athlete. It’s identity. For so many of these people, you pull sport away and you’re like, holy smoke. How do I handle all of these things that I didn’t even realize sport was helping me with? Now, on the flip side of that, one of the things I encourage athletes to do when they are sidelined is to take some time, like who are you outside of your sport? Because that’s such an important thing to explore and we often neglect to do so because we’re so busy with sports. 

Retrospectively, it can be incredibly beneficial to be sidelined, which athletes have a hard time hearing. But recognizing the coping mechanism that is sport and when that’s gone, like mental resilience becomes challenging. But also to recognize that mental health can become far more at the forefront than anyone ever anticipated. And I’m really lucky at Children’s because, in addition to me from a mental skills standpoint, we also have clinical psychologists and social workers who work with our athletes. We get to work collaboratively from that kind of mental wellness branch addressing both mental health and mental skills.

Ravi Patel: And that’s so awesome. And that whole team approach is so helpful in this, to not only address some of those physical components. But then as you had mentioned, being able to work with clinical psychologists, people like yourself who are working on the mental performance side of things to be able to make sure that not only that physical aspect gets addressed but also that mental aspect. As you had mentioned, that whole identity piece is a really interesting concept. And the pandemic threw such a huge curve ball at this because it created a lot of isolation. Schools had to go into their own different domains. But then you also take ACL athletes who are working, who have their kids at home, who are playing recreational sports, all of these different categories of athletes and ages and activities, and some of that stuff just gets taken away. And then you’re just like, well, what do I do? This is what my identity is associated with. And so what I love about that is, as you had mentioned this is an opportunity to figure out what is it outside of just my sport do I identify with. To figure out who you are as an athlete, but then also outside of that.

I love that a lot. One of the things that I wanted to talk about is the practical advice and some go-to things that you do with your own athletes, someone who might be struggling with potentially the mindset or mental health piece of things. Let’s say an ACL athlete just had an injury and where do you start with them? 

Kelsey Griffith: I like that question. Say, I’m getting them pre-op. I think one of the first things I would have an athlete start to do regularly is the wins: track them and write them down, right from the start. Because in that prehab sort of place, it’s really interesting because you’re going to get strong. I remember having this moment of like, do I need to have this surgery? I feel really good right now. And so you’re going to go from feeling like strong to then having a day where you can’t lift up your own leg and that’s hard. But to see, okay, when I first got hurt, it was hard to get around. It was hard to walk and look at where I got. And now I’m back to that, that place of far less function. But I can do that again from a self-efficacy standpoint. 

Self-efficacy is essentially our belief in our ability to be successful in a particular domain. As a dancer, my self-efficacy is quite high. As a softball player, not so much. And one of the greatest predictors of self-efficacy is past success. If you can see again in that prehab place, like put in the work, saw the results, I think post-op, that becomes, you’re okay, like yes, right now it’s hard. But before I’ve put in the work and I saw the results and so like that propels you forward.

Another piece I think is really, really important right from the get-go is having a place to process how you’re feeling. Ravi, you mentioned journaling before. One of my favorite tools I use with athletes, I call your tantrum journal. I started to recognize -I do a lot of work with self-talk. And what I started to see with a number of athletes was this idea of like, yes, I know I do better when I talk positively or productively to myself. But I don’t have the space for it. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed or frustrated, angry, etc., it’s that little thought trying to make it in to say like, you can do this, but everything else is so darn loud. That the little good guy is just never going to break in. And so I started, I think I might have been in a store and saw a kid throwing a tantrum. Afterwards, the parent tried to fix it a couple of times, and get the kid off the floor and the kid really just screamed louder. So eventually, the parents just let it happen. And once the kid was done it was like, hey, do you want to go and see the puppy outside? And totally redirected. Just had to get it out. 

And I always joke with my athletes like I’m 33 and I really wish sometimes I could throw myself on the floor and just have a tantrum. Not quite as socially acceptable anymore, unfortunately. We have to have a place where we can do that. And I think sometimes what can be tricky with ACL in particular, really all injuries in particular, is that sense of, ” mom and dad don’t get it. “If they haven’t experienced it when they’re like, but it’ll be fine. You’ll get back, don’t worry. And when you’re in it, you’re kind of like you know they’re right. What they’re saying is true. But sometimes in that moment, you don’t want it to be fixed. You just need to be able to be angry and to feel scared and to feel frustrated. The journal allows that space to do it. 

Now, what I always encourage with the journal, literally for those listening, set a timer, two to three minutes, and just write. Even if you start out by saying, I heard this on a podcast, it sounded weird, but I’m giving it a try. Start to write and eventually, things will start to come. When you’re done, crumple it up, and throw it away. We’re not invalidating what you’re saying. You’re not saying like, I shouldn’t be thinking these things. These are stupid things to think about. You’re saying, okay, right now at this moment, these thoughts are not helping me to be X, Y, or Z. And I think that’s really important because I want to emphasize like, you should be frustrated, you should be angry, all of that is so okay. And sometimes fighting that actually makes it harder when you’re like, everything’s fine and fabulous and I’m okay. It just kind of makes the not-so-good stuff even bigger. We just need a place to get it out. And so crumbled up, throw away. 

But then remember, that a colleague of mine used this example. If you push water away and you don’t put something in its place, the water’s going to come flooding back. The same thing goes for not-so-helpful thoughts. Get rid of it, tantrum it out, crumble it up, throw it away. And then write down, like what does help me right now? Say you’re walking into PT, maybe your session the day before was awful. Your range of motion wasn’t where you wanted it to be. Maybe you saw your physician who was like, oh, we really got to push this, flexion, extension, etc. You’re going in, you’re like, what if I don’t today? What if I fail again today? Get that out and then redirect your attention. Say, you know what, like I can do hard things. My PT is here to support me, 1% better today, maybe it’s focusing on certain exercises. If you’re doing glute bridges, pay attention to my glutes and hamstrings. Make your thought intentional so that it can work for you rather than defaulting to what’s not so good because that’s the easiest path, that’s the path of least resistance. We have to actively want to change that. 

Ravi Patel: I love that so much. And there’s so many gems within that. It’s so important to be able to have a space to do that like you said. The Tantrum Journal, I love it. If you’ve been on this journey or you’ve been working with someone on this journey, inevitably there’s going to be a certain point where there’s going to be a certain threshold where you’re just going to be mad, you’re going to be pissed that something didn’t work out the way that you wanted it to. Because it’s just such a long journey and each person’s journey is so different. What I tell my athletes is when this happens, like you said, get it out and it’s okay for this space to be here. And it’s okay for you to feel this way. Just do it fast. Don’t sit in it. Don’t be miserable. Don’t sit in it for days and weeks. Do it. Like you said, have these strategies in place so get your journal or whatever it is, write it out, brain dump it, and then ball it up, and throw it away.

And that’s one of the things that you can do, do that fast. And then, as you said, you got to keep the water separated. We have to put some good things in place in order to make sure that that doesn’t just set back in because it’s so easy for that to come back in.

Kelsey Griffith: I was going to say another thing like what do we fill the space, with goal setting be huge too, which I’m sure you do a ton with your athletes. What’s our goal today? How are we working towards that? Have concrete, actionable items. Keep them realistic because for every athlete, for the most part, post-ACL, the goal is to get back to the sport. That’s a big goal. And if that’s the only goal that you have every day, you don’t get there, it feels like a failure. Find the intermediary. That can be a super awesome filler after the tantrum journal. Every day you walk into PT, something small. Whether it’s literally like when I notice my mindset going to a place I don’t want it to, I’m going to detract myself and redirect. That’s a goal. Because in essence, that goal will still get you to get back to the sport. Becoming aware of that mindset early in the process is going to be way easier to keep yourself in check throughout the process because it’s not linear. There are going to be days where you’re cruising up. I feel awesome, I’m making so much progress. This is so exciting. Then you’re going to hit that plateau or you’re going to have a setback. And you’re going to say, wait, what the heck just happened? That’s not part of the plan. And I think humans like controllable, so we like to know. 

I’ve actually worked with some of our surgeons. We’ve talked about guidelines and timelines as helpful or harmful. And I think they were laughing because they’re like, we can say over and over and over again to our patients like, six months is probably not going to be when you get back to the sport. And they’re like, what do you think happens if they’re six months checkup? They don’t get cleared and they are heartbroken. And they looked at me, they were like, are we not saying it right? Because they’re not hearing it. But I think in the media, like professional athletes who are getting back in the six-month timeline, like everyone sees that’s what I need to do, instead of recognizing like comparison. It’s exhausting. It just sucks energy from what you need to be doing, what you need to be controlling. And that’s I think where the timelines can be harmful when you see your teammate who got back at X point and had a pretty linear progression and you’re like, why isn’t that happening to me? What did I do wrong? It’s not that you did anything wrong, it’s just that your experience with the entry is different and that’s okay. But helping athletes recognize that from the outset say in a first visit pre-op, this is going to be hard. It’s not going to be linear. Avoid comparing yourself to others because it’s only going to suck the joy out of anything and everything you’re doing to set that at the forefront, I think could be incredibly helpful. 

Ravi Patel: It’s so important. And this comes back to setting expectations. What voices are you letting in? Obviously, if it’s the surgeon you’re working with, physical therapists, mental health professionals, all of these are hopeful people that are guiding you in this process. The thing that can be tough is that with social media, with online, even with professionals, there can be a lot of noise of like, okay, you know, we could do this in six months. The classic Adrian Peterson got back in four months after ACL. He is literally 0.001 of the 0.001% of anomalies of human athletes, you see him perform. To be able to put ourselves in these same shoes is just not comparable. 

But like you said, setting the expectations, being able to know this is probably going to be longer than six months, it’s probably going to be a year. And that’s what I tell the majority of my athletes, anyone who has surgery 9 to 12 months before you realistically can have any sort of like normalcy you feel like. And that’s even with my own injuries, my own two ACL injuries. I didn’t really feel like my true self until 12 months later. And that’s really after working really hard in my rehab. And that’s hopefully if the resources are there for you, right?

Kelsey Griffith: Of course. Yeah. 

Ravi Patel: All right, guys. That is going to be it for part one in this two-part interview series with Kelsey Griffith. I hope you’re taking a lot away from this. Sit on it. Think about it. Next week, we are going to be talking about part two. We’re going to be answering some questions from Instagram. We’re going to dive into more mindset training, specifically. And we’re just excited to get this out to you. Stay tuned for next week, until next time.

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