Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sam Bradford: Staying positive in the face of adversity

How one athlete came back from his season-ending injuries stronger than ever

Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr
Source: Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr

Coming off of two back-to-back, season-ending ACL tears, Sam Bradford was a player who was viewed as a tainted commodity by most NFL teams. However, after failing to reach a contract agreement with his team, the St. Louis Rams, Bradford was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where apprehension as to how he would recover and perform was high.

While Bradford’s future as an athlete is looking very promising now, there were much darker times in his career not too long ago. In fact, at one point Bradford even considered retiring from football altogether, after feeling defeated and demoralized by his season-ending injuries. Luckily, a close friend convinced him to continue on and persevere through his setbacks.

How well and how quickly an athlete will recover, both mentally and physically, from such a serious injury can be largely determined by the kind of social support that they have around them. This kind of support is key when recuperating from a serious injury as an athlete. It is not uncommon for athletes who experience detrimental injuries to experience situational depression, as I have personally seen many times in my profession. When I played basketball at Arizona State University (ASU), I suffered a devastating injury before my junior year and had no sort of social support or morale boost from my coaches or teammates. In fact, I believe that if I had that support at the time, that I would have been able to bounce back and continue to play for my final two years.

When no one around you believes in you, it can be very difficult to believe in yourself. Athlete’s are quick to forget how good they once were as soon as they feel like they are damaged goods and no longer able to add any tangible value to the team. Regardless of the fact that I was a valuable asset to my the team at the time, as soon as my injury stood in the way of that, it felt as if I was tossed aside. Luckily, Bradford has had supporters rallying around him and believing in his ability to make a comeback, most importantly Philadelphia Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly. Kelly’s confidence in Bradford’s abilities have been apparent from the beginning, as he was quoted comparing the comeback of Bradford to the New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees: “The Saints, their revival had a lot to do with Drew Brees, who was hurt. A lot of teams didn’t do enough due diligence with him. Give (Saints coach) Sean Payton and (GM) Mickey Loomis credit. They didn’t count Drew Brees out and look how it paid off for them. We wouldn’t have traded for (Bradford) if we didn’t believe he didn’t have a tremendous upside."

The thing that is so admirable about Bradford is the way in which he has overcome the hardships that he’s been thrown. He is the shining example of how an athlete can bounce back from a game-ending injury stronger than ever, and with a positive attitude. He has continued to do an exceptional job of staying poised, confident, and strong in front of the media and his new team, not outwardly succumbing to the immense stress and pressure that has been put upon him.

Resilience and strength in the face of adversity is particularly critical for a quarterback, who is the face and leader of the team. Being injured while playing such a prominent role on a team can have a damaging domino effect on the rest of the team if not handled properly. If you doubt yourself, so will others. In the case of Bradford, it has been even more crucial given that he entered a new team as a player who had a reputation for critical injuries, which would make almost any team apprehensive as to what effect it could have on their future success. He undoubtedly has fears and insecurities deep down, but knows that as the leader and backbone of the team, that he must remain confident in his abilities and endurance. Some say the more you say it, the more you believe it. Whether he truly believes everything that comes out his mouth or not, it certainly seems to be working in his favor.

Many injured athletes will simply give up or push the people around them away in times of despair, when it is actually the most crucial time to embrace them. Using positive self talk and visualization techniques are vital to mental and physical recovery, as much of the healing process must first take place psychologically before the physical aspects can follow suit. Every athlete has a fear of re-injury when they have already experienced a traumatic injury, but how they take on that challenge will often define their future and fate as an athlete.

For more information on overcoming athletic hardships, make sure to check out the Ohio University Coaching Education program and Mind Over Body Athletics, LLC.