By Adam MacDougall, News.com.au
Rugby league, like all professional sports, is littered with stories of heartbreak and missed chances. For every regular first-grader, there are hundreds more whose careers were stolen by unlucky injuries or failing bodies.
And while it might be hard to picture it now, James Tedesco was very nearly one of them. The Sydney Roosters’ fullback had always been tipped as one of the game’s future stars, but a number of season-killing injuries seemed destined to prevent him from ever living up to those expectations.
His very first first-grade game, playing for Wests Tigers against the Cronulla Sharks in 2012, saw him suffer a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
It was the end of his season, and his professional career felt over just as it was beginning. His injury left the teenager crying in the dressing sheds, so heartbroken that he even moved several of his burly and blokey teammates to tears, too.
But he didn’t let that stop him, and after a stellar 2018 season that included wins with the NSW Blues and the Australian Kangaroos, as well lifting the premiership trophy with his teammates, all his hard work has finally paid off.
There are few NRL players who have learned as much about personal resilience as Tedesco, so who better to help us hack resilience this week?
“The thing I learned was you just have to stay positive,” Tedesco says.
“I was 19 when I did my knee on my debut and it was really hard. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, and staying positive and having positive people around you is so important.
“If you put your head down and work hard, then things will always get better. And it’s all about perspective; I’m a patron of the Sporting Chance charity, and when I see the challenges those little guys face, it makes something like a bad knee seem pretty meaningless.”
It’s easy to picture professional rugby league players as battle-hardened tough guys but Tedesco says the secret to his resilience has been finding positive role models that he can confide in.
He has a personal mentor he speaks to at least once a week (and even every day as big games approach), who he says helps ease the pressure of being a professional football player.
“I have a mentor that I see week to week and seeing him with all my injuries when I was younger has been massive for me. In the grand final week I spoke to him every day because it’s such a stressful period. But when I’m talking with him I’m in the moment, and it helps me to stay grounded,” he says.
“As a bloke it can be hard to find guys you can trust and talk about stuff with. But I always feel a lot better for it, whether we speak on the phone or go and grab a coffee together.”
The days of recovery sessions meaning a wheelie-bin filled with ice are long behind rugby league.
Tedesco has a personal masseuse he sees at least once a week, spending hours stretching his muscles after hard training sessions and matches.
He makes his own food whenever he can — so he knows exactly what he’s eating — and his focus is on getting a full eight hours of quality sleep rather than partying the night away.
“I had a pretty rough start to my career, with a lot of knee surgeries and injuries that kept me off the field. So my priority was just staying on the paddock and playing week to week,” he says.
“I see my masseuse once a twice a week for two or three hours. It’s helped me so much — I’ve had no real muscular injuries since I started. You say massage and people think it’s nice and relaxing but I’m honestly in pain most of the time.”
… ABOUT RESILIENCE
Phone a friend
It’s so important to have someone you can share what you’re going through with, be it a family member, a friend or a mentor. Opening up about an issue immediately makes it feel smaller.
Tedesco likes to have a positive outlook on life and his career. Picture: Dylan Robinson
It seems difficult, I know, but focusing on what is to come rather than what’s already happened will help you maintain a positive outlook and keep you focused on a bright future.
If the big picture is too hard to focus on, instead set small daily goals that will set you on that path to success. Not only does it deliver a sense of accomplishment, but each day brings you closer to your goal.
Maintain an attitude of gratitude and you’ll find yourself thankful for all the good in your life. Science has proven we can’t experience two emotions at once, so maintaining a grateful attitude means there’s no room for anything negative.
Let the sun shine in
It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but getting outside — even for a quick walk — in the sunshine will unlock natural mood-boosting benefits, and you’ll be feeling better in no time.
ASK ADAM …
Question: Hi Adam, I’ve been struggling with lower back pain lately, and I’m not sure how I should treat it. Should I be restricting my movement? Or should I be trying gentle exercise?
Answer: The way we deal with niggling pain has changed over the years. There was once a time when minimising movement was usually recommended, but a 2004 study in the Spine Journal found gentle walking can reduce lower back pain by between 10 and 40 per cent.
Like recovering from the soreness that follows exercise (like if you’ve run a marathon), I’ve found movement is a great way of increasing blood flow to a sore area.
* Send your health questions to [email protected]
Adam MacDougall is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.