Diary entry from a Britballer

Britballer CJ takes you through the hard lessons he’s learnt due to sports injuries…

Dear Mr. Glass,

If there was one thing I could say to my younger self before I started my American football journey in britball it would be:

1. If you’re down, stay down and get back up when your mind is right, the body is right and the IQ is right, because you need all 3 to be able to compete on the field with these beasts that should be playing in greater leagues but due to financial and geographical constraints, play here.

I know I said one thing, but…

2. Learn how to work hard and persevere when you’re young, because those things can and will take you places (and I learned that way too late in my life).

Oh and one more one thing:

3. Stop being so impressionable and believe in yourself. 

Now before I begin this story of a downward spiral of nothing but upset and pain, I feel like we all need to be on the same page.

In this game I’m absolutely nobody. I’m not the best, I’m not a bench warmer. I don’t have great stats. In fact I actually have sub par stats for my role in the game (but this is a conversation between me and the coaches). I played RT and was ok at it. Then switched to defence because I felt I was always a defensive player at heart (this is what all offensive linemen say). If sub average was an entity, I believe it would look a little like me on the gridiron.

I did not disclose ALOT of my injuries to the teams I played for.

I started playing sports in year 8/9 when I must have been 14 years old but 2010 was the year of my first real exposure to American football. I joined the Bradford Bears University American football team (to this day I still despise the Huddersfield and Leeds teams).

“I lasted two lengths”

Football at school was a pivotal moment in my life, this was the time I realised just how non- athletic, unfit and injury prone I actually am. This was the year I was introduced to that stupid beep test, you know, the one where you run from one side of the court to the other before the demonic *beep* from that stupid tape.

I lasted two lengths. As in I ran from one side of the court to the other twice. I was the first one out and my PE teacher asked if I was asthmatic. I still remember the shock on my classmates faces when I gave up and sat down. But the major takeaway from this was that my right ankle was never the same. I couldn’t tell you how or what happened resulting in my injury as it was such a long time ago, but I walked with a limp for close to a month and every step was painful. Anyone with a little knowledge of sports injuries would tell you “yeah you might’ve torn your Achilles, grade 1 at least”, but to be honest at age 14 you heal much faster than you do at 28. This was the year that my reluctance to go and see anyone about my sports related injuries had spurned.

In fact let me give you a timeline of my sports related injuries…

Age 14 – potentially partially tore my achilles in my right ankle. I’ll never know… I failed to get it checked.

Age 18 – did something to my right shoulder during preseason American football practice at university (this was the same injury that actually made me walk out on the team. I don’t even know why I count this year because I didn’t even play this year, I would also like to include that I was awful at the sport).

Age 19 – no injuries.

Age 21 – injured my right knee (saw no one, limped for a couple weeks, got better).

Age 22 – pains in right ankle (what a surprise).

At this stage my injuries to me were minor and felt like aches, but wait, there’s more…

Age 22/23 – L5/S1 disc herniation. 

Here’s where I truly messed up (replace the M word with an F word). At this age I was playing for the Kent Exiles, who were at the time a division 2 team and I had slowly learned that going to the gym 4 times a week and going to practice twice a week made me a much better player. At this point in my life I had developed (in an analogy) what bloodlust would be to a vampire. Whatever that was – that taste of the game, the camaraderie, the pure domination, the employment of techniques I had learned in practice and by YouTube, the pancake after pancake after pancake…after pancake of my opposition, I had developed it. I had big dreams, great ones. I wanted to play Right Tackle in Europe, I wanted to make a career out of it, I wanted my ACCOLADES. This is what ultimately led to a painstaking 2 years of back pains, and if you think it stops there…well.

“Anyone with a little knowledge of sports injuries would tell you…”

During these 2 years I saw two physiotherapists. One basically said I need to stop playing and let me back heal, and gave me a set of exercises and stretches to do at home. The second in a nutshell essentially gave the same advice.

I did not listen, nor did I follow up. I continued to play for the Exiles and work out, bearing the pain of a serious life changing injury through misguided machismo. In fact during this period my back got better … or so I thought. During this period I max repped a 240kg deadlift (I was 22 at the time, leave me alone) and felt a pop, followed by instant stiffness which was then followed by excruciating pain.

At this point I should’ve given up the game and let myself heal, but when you’re young, you feel invincible. I wish somebody slapped some serious sense into me, as in, a physical “what are you doing!?” slap. It would’ve been well deserved.

My younger self continued to play on, through the pain. In that second year of pain, and my third year at the exiles, I tore the PCL in my right knee – no surprise. Back then this was a shock as I thought my knees were healthy, but with the knowledge I have now, I totally understand how and why this occurred. When you’re injured, you naturally overcompensate for those said injuries, applying more pressure to joints and muscles around your injuries, more than they’re used to. You also do not work out as you naturally would, so your movements become stiff and unnatural to compensate for the injuries. I’d also stopped stretching as much. I’d stopped stretching my calves and hamstrings because my back tightened up. Hence unnatural body movements, hence PCL tear. It happens (add an S and a H before the IT).

My season at Kent had been cut short, and I was furious. We literally had premiership level athletes. We were winning, we were on a roll, and they could’ve done it all with or without me, but the accolades, the naïveté of a young mans dreams, I couldn’t stop.

Age 23/24– I herniated my disc again, but this time I was at the London Olympians. I also tore something in my shoulder. I couldn’t actually lift it above my head for a couple months. This time it was so painful, I had an MRI, an epidural at the spine, AND physio…worth it. 

Age 24/25 – I literally played through my injury where I could, never truly rehabbing and never truly getting better, but it was worth it – I won a silver medal. All that pain and silverware, the majority of britballers could only dream of claiming the runner up silver medal at a division 1 final.

Time out: do you all think I’m as stupid as I think I am? Because I was very very stupid.  

Age 25 – back pains and right knee pains. There’s a very very clear pattern here.

At this point I decided I had enough, I genuinely started having doubts as to whether I should continue to play this sport. For the half of my last season at the Olympians, I was out due to a combination of injuries and a bruised ego (this is a whole other story). I was 25/26, reaching my prime age for the sport I had fallen in love with, and I was ridden with injuries. I remember telling the team physio that my body felt as if it was split into two, like my body from the waist up wasn’t in sync with the waist down. This was the year I decided to make a serious change.

That year was my last year at the Olympians. The following season I would join the London Blitz, but before that, I promised myself I would be in a non-injured, healthy and fit state when coming in. Thus started the motion of actually understanding my body and it’s limitations. For once I did something I had never done before, I sought professional advice about my body prior to suffering from another injury. 

I loosened my hips for safer movements in squatting and deadlifting.

I stretched more…way more. I would literally dedicate a gym session a week to nothing but my yoga mat. Bluetooth earphones in and a full body stretch for 2 hours.

“I wasn’t the same 14 year old kid that couldn’t move without huffing”

I started doing my own research on programming and conditioning. Now programming is something I still fully have some misunderstandings with, but I built my body from the ground up – focussing on building a strong core. I looked good, I felt great. I felt so great, I stopped maintaining the routine…and I’ll tell you, that phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”, is unfortunately a sad truth.

During the off-season, to improve my cardio I started regularly participating in Thursday night soccer matches with friends from my area. I wasn’t the same 14 year old kid that couldn’t move without huffing. I became an athlete, and a really good one. The pride I had felt at the time is extremely important as it led to my demise. One week, a female footballer showed up to play with us in an 8 v 8 game. I played centre back and she played striker that day. What the other guys had failed to tell me was that she was an ex-academy level player. Long story short, she did a skill on me – my hips went right, my knees went left and my right foot went down resulting in yet again another PCL injury. This footballer and I are still good friends to this day but I sometimes have to let her understand that what she did to me that unfortunate day seriously pushed my progress back months. And we just laugh.

Now experience is the greatest teacher. This time I spared no time in getting my injury diagnosed and rehabbing at the correct rate – not pushing too much to undo the progress I had made. Essentially due to this injury I practiced the first half of the Blitz preseason in a Donjoy knee brace.

Now remember when I talked about overcompensating… well, as I was still recovering from the PCL knee injury, my calf was over compensating for my right knee, and yet again during preseason, I got a sharp twinge in my calf which forced me to leave practice early. My calf was never the same, and in game 5 (where I would finally play against my previous team the Olympians) I tore my calf muscle when, wait for it… running out for the card check. What a life. I was back for playoffs but the risk of regression was still quite high.

So these are the morals of my story:

1 – The common thing we all face today in the Information Age is that, when we think we know something about a subject, that’s when we know nothing at all. When we think we know enough about a subject, that’s when we think we know everything, and that’s when we are the most dangerous. No one knew my body better than I, and yet I put myself in compromising situations that could’ve permanently damaged my body. I should’ve sought out a professional for every injury I had. You only get one body, I wish I treated mine much better.

2 – Discipline. I wish I was more disciplined in my stretches, my diet, my workout routines. The insight you get from being so broken is undeniably unique. If I was more disciplined, I most likely would be less injured.

3 – Programming and conditioning. I still don’t understand the concept of programming so I wont bother to bore anyone with what I know. Conditioning however, this is extremely important. I had conditioned my body to play four quarters of football, but decided to go out and play soccer. Anyone with half a mind could’ve told me I was putting myself at risk. So understanding what you’re conditioning your body for is just as important as managing your pre-existing aches and pains.

I hope you found this interesting, the major point I want everyone reading to take away from this is – know when to stop, know when to heal, know who to contact when you can’t do it alone.

Lastly, I injured my lower back again on a deadlift in the offseason, but I’m healing thanks to pelvic tilts, core work and resistance band exercise progressions. They don’t call me injury prone for nothing. This is an awful and narcissistic thing to say, but my body needed a break from sports, from compound lifting, from practice, and this lockdown has made me appreciate what I can actually do and feel out of football routine. 2021, we move once more.

CJ

Injury

In this own words – CJ is your run of the mill average joe who has been around Britball for 10 years. As well as playing the sport, CJ has been at the forefront of promoting the sport in a positive light, from highlight reels, to YouTube to podcasts. Now focused on his professional career, CJ uses football to balance out a healthy lifestyle. You can find CJ’s football projects and music on Instagram here.

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