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#AnythingButSoft: How Amanda Scarborough Turned Injuries Into a Positive Experience

Some girls dream about playing softball for their favorite college at a young age. ESPN analyst Amanda Scarborough was one of those girls.

Scarborough’s dream came true in November of her junior year in high school, when the high school All-American pitcher committed to Texas A&M. Life as an Aggie started out as a dream, too, as she became the first softball player to ever be named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year award in the same season 2005. At the time, she never could have predicted that her career would soon be plagued with injuries, limiting her time on the field and eventually forcing her to hang up her cleats. 

Toward the end of her freshman season, she was struck with a line drive to the head while playing first base. The impact caused a skull fracture and her brain to bleed. She was cleared to play in the super regional against Alabama but had to wear a helmet to protect herself. The Aggies lost and the season ended two wins shy of Oklahoma City.

In February 2008, in a game against Stephen F. Austin, she went to bunt for a hit. When she took off for first base she felt a sharp pain in her right foot. The pain was so bad she couldn’t finish her at bat and had to leave the game. Doctors thought it was a mild sprain and that she would be back in a couple of weeks.

They thought wrong. 

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March came with no sign of healing and she went back to the doctor. She visited an orthopedic surgeon in Houston and was diagnosed with a Lisfranc fracture. The injury is rare and so serious that it requires immediate surgery. While receiving the news, she asked the doctor to look at her other foot because that one had been bothering her since high school. It turns out her left big toe had detached from her foot and all of the ligaments were torn. That required reconstructive surgery.

This set of injuries changed the career path of Scarborough and led her to ESPN, where she also serves as lead softball game-analyst on the SEC Network, and to coaching. 

We had a chance to ask Scarborough a few questions about her career-ending surgeries and how she dealt it mentally and physically.

You called a team meeting to tell everyone about your injury; was that your idea?

Yes, right after my injury happened on February 20, it was misdiagnosed for several weeks as just a mild foot sprain, and everyone thought I would be coming back to play. After weeks of not feeling better, I went to see a podiatrist, and he gave me the news that it would be an intense surgery. As soon as I got back to College Station, I wanted to tell my teammates the news and what was going on. It was hard to tell them all, but on a team, I could feel their support and almost an instant connection that pulled everyone closer to rally around my injury. The toughest conversation was calling Coach (Jo) Evans to tell her the news. That was probably one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. 

Obviously there is always a chance that a player gets injured, but how did you deal with your injuries both mentally and physically?

I remember feeling really sad and heavy the day after going to visit the doctor and realizing I would have to have surgery and would probably never play again. My mom was with me; she was very supportive, as always. I allowed myself to be for that day, and I think it’s okay to show emotion, especially to your mom and just let all your tears flow out. But I swear it was the next day and I thought to myself, “Ok Amanda, no more feeling sorry for yourself. What can I do?” I would find ways to still be involved at practice, cheer harder for my teammates, find time to work out in our weight room because I knew they had to work out still, so I would go and ride the bike.

So I think when dealing with your injuries, it’s so important not to isolate yourself — emotionally and physically. Even though you are injured, you are just as much a part of the team as you make yourself. It’s a choice. Especially in the first one to two weeks of being injured, I think it’s a conscious choice to wake up and not feel sorry for yourself so you can start your day on a good note even when you just got some really bad news.

Eventually, during this one to two weeks, that choice becomes a habit for how you’re looking at your day and your life. I would promise anyone who is injured, the more you still immerse yourself with your team, the more you can and will give to your team, and the better emotionally it will make you feel around your team. Remember, you are still a part of the team — if you choose to act like you are. Find a new role.

The best thing is, you get to create your own role because quite frankly, no one is expecting you to do anything, so you get to make your role anything you want. Maybe your role is to go grab your pitcher a cup of water after she comes off of the field and tell her good job with a genuine smile. Maybe your role is to sit right next to the pitching coach and chart pitches. Maybe your role is to learn how to pick pitches that the opposing pitcher is throwing and relay the information to your teammates.

Now that I am calling games, often times, I come across players who are injured or have gone through an injury that has sat them out anywhere between six months to a year, and almost all of them say after their injury they see the game in a new way. They say they learned more about themselves and about the game during that time than all of the time combined in their previous years of playing. It’s all about their conscious choice to be open to learning and looking for something to learn and a way to contribute to their team while they are out. 

Did your foot surgeries fuel your fire to coach/instruct?

The answer for this is undoubtedly, yes. If you would have asked me the day before my foot injury, February 20, if I wanted to coach softball when I was done playing, I would have told you an unwavering, no way, and that I wanted to be done with softball.

I think everyone has those moments where they just want to be done and they’re burnt out. Injuries can challenge that feeling and give you a new perspective of the game. It did that for me. I was thrown into a new role, where I still contributed to my team. I wanted to help in any way I could. I would study the scouting reports before the games and communicate to our pitcher, Megan Gibson, and our catcher Erin Glasco.

During the game, I would chart pitches, find tendencies and help communicate them to Megan and Erin. No one forced me to do this, I found myself wanting to do it, and liking it. It was really through this role that I saw a glimpse into my passion for coaching. I knew, too, my leadership needed to step up more than ever and be even more supportive of all my teammates. For once in my career, I didn’t have to worry about if I had given up a homerun when I was pitching or if I was 0-5 at the plate. I could take all of my energy and put it into my teammates to try to make them better.  

From GameChanger and Maren Angus.

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