The Importance of “The Broken Leg Test”

By Karen Emas Borbee, head coach, Swarthmore College, @Swat_Wlax

If you have ever been involved in the college athletic recruiting process, you have probably heard someone mention the “broken leg test.”  It’s more of a mental check than an actual test.  You are supposed to ask yourself, “If I break my leg and can no longer play my sport, will I still be happy at this school?”

Photo courtesy of Swarthmore College Athletic Communications.
Photo courtesy of Swarthmore College Athletic Communications.

When you are going through the recruiting process, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. When a coach wants you and makes you feel good about yourself as an athlete, it’s difficult to put that aside and really think about what you want from your overall college experience. The thought that you might get hurt and be unable to play is something no one really wants to think about. No one thinks that the remote chance of a career-ending injury will happen to them.

As a parent, I tried to make sure my daughter made this mental check before she decided on a school. Her choice involved playing field hockey. I’d like to think that with my experience and guidance, my daughter picked the school that was the best fit for her academically and socially as well as athletically.  But when she suffered an injury during her first year and was faced with the “herniated disc test” we weren’t sure she had passed. When my daughter realized there was a chance that she may never be able to play again, the concept that seemed so remote suddenly became very real. We didn’t realize the magnitude and importance of the “broken leg test” until it actually happened to us.

As a college coach, my conversations with recruits have definitely changed.  I bring up this mental check each time, and we talk about what it really means.  I ask them to factor out lacrosse for a moment and really think about what they are looking for in an overall college experience. I know I am taking a risk. A much-needed and highly sought-after recruit may decide to pick another school, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Lacrosse should be a factor when you decide on a school, but you have to remember that you are only one injury away from not being able to play. The choice has to be bigger than just your sport. Sure, you can always transfer and find another school to attend, but keep in mind that injuries don’t just happen during your first year. They can happen anytime and transferring isn’t always the best option.  Knowing you have picked the right school for the right reasons is the best option.

After a lot of rehab and hard work, my daughter was able play again. What we both learned through the process is that she did pick the right school – she had passed the test. And as a coach and a recruiter, I learned that the “broken leg test” is a very important mental check that everyone involved with the recruiting process should take the time to think about.


3 thoughts on “The Importance of “The Broken Leg Test”

  1. Great advice from a fantastic coach. I can still remember sitting on the steps outside of the Swarthmore field house with Coach Borbee when I was in tears after receiving the news that I couldn’t play for a short time during my senior season due to a stress fracture in my femur. Karen understood the disappointment and pain but she also helped me find perspective in the situation. It was not the end of the world. I would rehab and get back on the field in due time but she reminded me that there were many positives in my life at Swarthmore whether I was actively playing on the team or not. I am so grateful to Karen for my experience at Swarthmore both on and off the field.


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