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Dear Adina

Should I Help My Injured Student-Athlete Talk to Her Coach?

Adina Glickman

Dear Adina,

My college athlete is injured and her coach does not understand the seriousness of the injury and is angry at her and basically calling her a wimp. She (the coach) won’t look at her or talk to her. I want to clarify the extent of injury to the coach because my daughter won’t. She feels manipulated and isn’t able to fully communicate what’s wrong with her. She has a basic note from her doctor saying she can’t play, but the coach feels she should be playing because she (the coach) played in college injured. The coach is misunderstanding my daughter's injury which is not the same as her own injury.

So I don’t want to be THAT parent and reach out to explain; however, my kid is getting more and more depressed and feeling ostracized. Trust me, I have given my kid every tool to talk to her coach but she won’t. She’s incredibly timid. I really want her to deal with it but it’s been a month and is getting worse. She is a top scoring player and the coach is upset because she can’t play her. She should have been red-shirted and allowed to heal. The coach made her play injured and she got worse resulting in longer recovery.

Dear Parent,

All through his childhood, I tried to convince my knuckle-cracking son to be kinder to his joints. Several times a day, I’d hear that stream of pop-pop-pops and cringe. It wasn’t until he went to conservatory to study classical guitar that he saw the damage it had done.

This is all to say I totally get your instinct to intervene in some way and stand between your daughter and the potentially permanent damage she may sustain playing through her injury.

Your best route is to try and educate your daughter and help her understand the permanent damage she may be doing to her body. If you have your own story or know others whose stories illustrate the down side of pushing through pain and its long-term impact, share those stories. Your task is to educate and get her to take a longer view of her decisions right now.

It sounds like she feels like she has no options, so you can help her see where there are some possible directions to take this. Perhaps she can get better documentation from her doctor about the injury that details the detriment of playing. And there may be campus resources available that she can leverage, such as talking with an academic advisor to get support in advocating for herself, and even getting some specific advice on how to speak to the coach in a way that isn’t confrontational but will make the coach aware that pressuring an injured athlete to perform is likely not within the school’s standard of ethics.

Another approach could be to ask your daughter about the team dynamics. Is she getting pressure or support from teammates? Is there another athlete she trusts who can help her feel less alone in recovering from the injury while still being part of the team?

Again, your task here is to get her thinking in ways she may not have been thinking, and to get her to see how she can be more active on her own behalf.

I salute your effort to not be THAT parent and solve this problem for her! I would stay far away from intervening directly with the coach since that would reinforce a message to your daughter that she can't handle this herself and needs you to step in.

Since she is already timid about it, she may be telling herself it’s not that big a deal, or she’ll somehow be in trouble if she speaks up. Rather than speak for her, educate her about the way things really work (and learn from her about the culture she’s dealing with at her school) and let her know that the coach is out of line and that her job as a young adult is to do what’s right for herself. And remind her that speaking up won’t always be so intimidating — it will get easier with practice, just like her ability to perform athletically has over the years.

Finally, since the coach is using herself as an example, it's fair to tell your daughter that perhaps the coach would have gone pro had she not played in college while injured. There’s not a single thing wrong with being a college athletic coach, but it’s not necessarily a happy ending after her decision to play through injury.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at

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