“There were periods where it was really tough” | McNamara opens up on the mental challenges of injury

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Injuries are part and parcel of sport, especially in professional competition.

With elite players and athletes performing at their highest levels every day, pushing their bodies to the limits; contesting against other skilled and ambitious competitors, there is always a risk – but while setbacks are considered ‘part of the game’, that fact does little to ease the pain for those facing spells of rehabilitation.

For any athlete enduring a period of recovery, the immediate focus is their physical condition, and the expected timeline for their return. However, often overlooked is the toll that period can have on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Suddenly unable to pursue their passion, seeing their daily routine revised, or perhaps set to be isolated from the team environment, it can be a difficult, arduous, and sometimes lonely stretch.

New England Revolution midfielder Tommy McNamara has recently overcome a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Having sustained an unfortunate leg injury in the club’s 2023 preseason training camp, the 32-year-old had been out of contention for the duration of the MLS campaign – six months in total.

After making a welcome return to the training pitch and featuring for Revolution II in MLS NEXT Pro, the Revs fan favorite is now back in the first team matchday squad – named on the bench for the Leagues Cup clashes against Atlas FC and Querétaro FC.

While the MLS veteran is thrilled to be back fit and is champing at the bit to step out for his season debut, he admits his recovery has not been easy – his mental wellbeing affected, as well as his physical fitness. It has been a challenging road, and McNamara expressed his gratitude for the positive support he received throughout the process.

“It feels good to be back,” he said. “I feel really good physically – I feel very fit, I feel sharp – and I’m just desperate to get myself back into game situations.

“It was a long process – longer than expected. It was difficult for big stretches of it. There were periods of it where it was really tough, really frustrating.

“I looked to the support of my family, I looked to the support of my friends. We have therapists that work with the club, and outside therapists, so I’ve spoken with them and worked with them on different things.

“What I found was: I was very hyper-aware, and hyper-sensitive to how I was feeling at all moments and times of the day – almost obsessing over it. It was becoming a little bit too much because then you can’t see any progress. When you’re just looking at something every second of the day, you never see any progress.

“I had to let go of that, and just trust in the rehabilitation process, and not be so hyper-concerned with how I was feeling in all moments of the day – just let it go and relax, and focus on other parts of my life. Then, when I got back in the next morning, think: ‘Okay, how do I feel today compared to yesterday?’ and then you can see a little bit more progress with that type of outlook.

“It’s cycles, and that’s why you can’t look at it really like a long-term injury. You can’t really look at it from a day-to-day standpoint – ‘Are you better? Are you worse?’. You need to look at it from a week-to-week standpoint because during the week, it’s going to cycle up and down, but hopefully over the course of one week to the next, it has a downward trajectory.

“It helped speaking about it to keep my mentality in a positive direction – that I was going to recover, that I was going to feel good again; that I was going to be in a place where I can play and compete again. Ultimately, I finally got there. I’m past that now, and I feel really good.”

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Sometimes, the most testing part of the recovery journey can be its closing chapter: the final weeks and days before the long-awaited comeback – the end goal within touching distance; the light at the end of the tunnel gradually brightening.

McNamara has been patient through the process, easing himself back into action with a 60-minute run-out for the Revolution II squad at the end of July. A 10-year MLS midfielder, the 32-year-old has 87 appearances, six goals and seven assists to his name since joining New England in 2020, and is regarded as a talented, esteemed and popular member of the squad. Though the Revs star acknowledges he faces stern competition for minutes, he is eager to make his mark in the club’s quest for silverware, as the ‘business end’ of the season edges closer.

“It’s more desperation – I’m just desperate to get back on the field fully,” he added, “Like I said, I feel fully fit, and I feel really sharp.

“I’ve been training for like four weeks now fully, and I feel like I’ve been training really well. I played 60 minutes with the second team, I feel sharp, and so it’s just up to the coaching staff now. I’m going to train as well as I can to try to make it difficult for the other guys that I’m competing with.

“I feel like I have a lot to contribute and bring to the group. Just from the basis of a competition standpoint, we have a lot of midfielders in the team that are playing at a good level and have done well up to this point. Adding me into the mix adds more competition into that spot – the guys that have been playing now have to continue to outperform me, and I think equally, my ability to play in different positions, my experience can help the group a lot in different situations, however the coaching staff sees fit.

“It takes a little bit of time to get back into the flow, but I feel back into it now. Once I got a couple of weeks of full training under me, and played in a game situation, I felt back to normal. I was excited to play with the IIs. They were great – they’re really good kids with a lot of talent, and they were very good to me, and treated me well. It was good to go and get a game in. It had been such a long time, I needed it – not just from a physical standpoint, but from a soccer standpoint to get back into the rhythm, and the flow of things again.

“I feel back to my normal self at this point in time, and I’ve felt like that for the last week, or 10 days. I'm really happy to be a part of the group, and I want to help contribute in this last third of the season, continuing what has up until this point been very successful.”

It has been a truly impressive campaign for New England so far. Sitting in second spot in both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, propelled by an exceptional home form, the team have battled to overcome adversity both on and off the pitch.

For McNamara, the Revs’ resilience has demonstrated a collective mental toughness – an ability to pull together and fight in the face of any challenge, galvanized by a solid camaraderie and togetherness.

“It’s been a really good season,” the midfielder reflected. “I give a lot of credit to the players. They’ve worked extremely hard, they’ve been extremely resilient, they’ve fought together.

“They’ve been a collective – the team unity has been really on a high level, and very commendable from my perspective, as I’ve almost been a fan up until this point.

“I have a lot of respect for the guys for what they’ve been able to do with all of the injuries we’ve dealt with, the off-field issues and everything else. They’ve all stuck together, and they fought for each other day after day, game after game.

“I think the camaraderie is the key, and the recruitment – what I believe to be intentional recruitment – of bringing good people into the club, good personalities into the club has made that. There’s no selfishness within the team, which is a rarity in professional sports.

“It’s a very collective mindset, it’s a very group-orientated mindset that’s been here since I got here, and when new players come into the group, they’ve adapted to that culture, and they’ve brought their own personalities to it. It’s really one of the key reasons why we’ve been successful since I’ve been here, and why we’ve been successful again this season.

“Hopefully, we can have a really good end to this last third of the season, and set ourselves up for something to make a run at the end. I hope that as a group, we can finish this last set of the season as well as we possibly can, playing and competing at a really high level, and then set ourselves up in the best possible place to do something come the postseason.

“But first, we have to get ourselves there, and we have to reach it in a really good moment as a group.”