Injuries just part of the game

Evan Sharpley
Tribune Correspondent

Regardless of the sport, the team of choice, or the specific athlete, injuries never are easy to digest. When it happens to a teammate, it is even harder to process and understand.

Teammates are like family. They are guys that prepare together during the preseason, in summer workouts, throughout two-a-days and during fall camp.

It is hard to wrap one’s brain around the time needed to excel at the collegiate and professional level, all to be halted by an injury.

Injuries bring perspective in the blink of an eye. Injuries are something that players can never prepare for individually. Furthermore, injuries have the ability to change the collective atmosphere within the locker room and alter team chemistry.

It is hard to replace someone that is a leader in the locker room and in the huddle. Injuries keep players off the field, out of the huddle, and sometimes out of the locker room. The team dynamics, including the lack of certain player personalities, affect the team chemistry.

The majority of the time spent by injured players is spent in the training room, attempting to speed up the recovery process. Internally, injuries oftentimes can be devastating to team leadership, or injuries can act as a bond to bring players even closer together.

The injury bug has no conscience, meaning it chooses whomever it wants to plague, rather than playing favorites. Injuries can occur to the third-string backup or to the team captain. Oftentimes, the team dynamics change dependent upon who the player is, his role on the team, and his leadership capabilities. An irreplaceable player has the ability to change the psyche of the team.

However, each team approaches injuries quite differently based on the leadership example set by the coach. Coaches have a huge impact into the mental route a team takes. The Notre Dame coaching staff has well established, both publicly and privately, an adherence to the “Next Man In’ philosophy and the players have bought into this methodology.

In terms of the players, it is very critical that the focus is not on the negative aspect of losing a teammate to injury, rather it should be what can we do to ensure that the next man in is confident and ready to be part of a winning formula.

Perhaps even more important than the mental approach is the amount of player development that has occurred for backups and third-string players to have success on the field. Depth becomes essential.

Although believing that second- and third-string guys will fill the void for a starter or that changing positions will realistically be a long-term solution are both very real possibilities, it is still a very hard to accomplish. Unless reps have occurred at that position previously, there will always be a bit of a learning curve.

It would surprise me if someone jumped in a new position and played “lights out.” Experience is still the best teacher. Fortunately, or unfortunately, many Irish players will gain a multitude of experience over the course of the remaining season.

As much time as coaches spend developing a “Next Man In” philosophy, worry and doubt occasionally creep in when injures happen, especially with multiple injuries.

Players must adjust, coaches must continue to instill confidence in their players, and the program must move forward with an intense focus on each weekly task.

At Notre Dame, when every game is the biggest game of the year, there are no excuses! Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.

Notre Dame's Ben Councell is carted off the field following the Notre Dame vs. Navy football game on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP