Recovering From Injury and Setting Goals

I've recovered from injuries before, including ones that required surgery, but none like my current one.  Three months ago, I ruptured my quadriceps tendon, reaching into the hat and picking the worst knee injury from which to recover: best case scenario, six months before resuming athletic activity; worst case, one year.  The first month, the leg had to be completely immobilized.  The second month, with a leg whose girth had shrunk from atrophy approximately forty percent, I started physical therapy.  Normal range of motion is 140 degrees. I began at 25 degrees.  On a good day, PT is excruciating, trying to get the knee to bend.  I've got to 95 degrees, and they're telling me that the hard part is just beginning.

I mention all this because my situation has taught me to practice what I preach.  So often my students hurt their progress by confusing long-term with short-term goals, and when they don't get where they want to be, they get down on themselves and lose motivation.  An A-2 player wants to get to A-1; that's her goal.  But when she's invited to play with some A-1 women at her club and clearly is the weakest player on the court, she concludes she'll never be invited again and will never achieve her goal.  How could she have escaped this negativity?  By making good short-term goals.  For example:  I'm going to hold my serve at least once per set.  I'm going to poach at least once per game, even if I miss.  I'm going to take some chances off my forehand return, and not play in fear of making a mistake.  Having set reasonable short-term goals for her match, if she achieved even one of them, she'd be able to walk off the court having suffered a loss but not feeling like a loser.

My physical therapists set goals for me each month, and we work hard at them, sometimes unbearably hard.  And sometimes, I don't feel like I'm making enough progress.  But they keep me focused on what I can do each session that will take me to my final goal:  getting back on the court, fully healed, playing the game I love.  At the end of each month, we review what I accomplished.  It makes me proud when I've done well, and I work all the harder.  I've got great coaches, and tennis players should rely on their coaches to help them set realistic goals.  Otherwise, players tend to measure their progress by their long-term ambitions, and this can be punishing.  I can't run yet, but I can walk a mile, no crutches, no cane.  I've got a hell of a long way to go, but my spirits are high.  I'm motivated.  One step at a time, I'm coming all the way back.

c Keith Shein