Athletes recognize that by playing competitive sports there is always the risk of experiencing injuries. The rehabilitation that follows, however, is heavily slanted toward fixing the athlete’s physical concerns, leaving the mental aspects to injury recovery to improve on their own. Interestingly, if you ask athletes many will say that physical rehabilitation is usually the easier of the two, with the mental side of injury recovery being the more important, albeit overlooked, part of the rehabilitation process.
Examining the mental aspects of injury recovery
When we talk about mental aspects to injury recovery, we are specifically looking at confidence development, focus, resiliency, motivation, and communication skills. When athletes prepare in these areas, they usually rehabilitate much quicker and have fewer issues when they do return to playing again. Conversely, athletes who ignore the mental side of injury rehabilitation run a much greater risk of not only a poor recovery process, but also tend to play more tentatively when they are able to compete again. This tentative play, or “playing to avoid losing,” leaves athletes even more susceptible to a re-injury.
Confidence is vitally important throughout the recovery process, as it is confidence that allows an athlete to go back out and play freely, and have fun competing again. In these examples, confident athletes don’t think about preserving themselves, or what will happen if they get re-injured, but instead put their attention to preparing for the game and giving it everything they have once the whistle blows. This healthy mindset is what allows the mind and body to work in synchrony, thereby providing for greater chances for Flow (or as athletes like to say, “the zone”).
Athletes can improve their confidence in a number of different ways when it comes to injury recovery, including the following:
- Work with a sport psychologist. The best way to address the mental side of injury recovery is to work 1-1 with a sport psychologist who can help with pain management techniques, goal setting strategies, and even ways to manage stress.
- Learn as much about the injury as possible. The more informed the better when it comes to injuries, and today there are countless resources injured athletes can turn to in order to learn about their condition.
- Take control of the process. Studies show that the more control we experience in life, the less stress we experience. In the case of the injured athlete it is important to set goals, monitor progress, and stay in regular communication with coaches, teammates, and other important rehabilitation personnel.
- Listen to your body. Sometimes even when the charts say we should be ready to go, our bodies tell us otherwise. It’s important for athletes to trust their intuition, and if they are not ready to return use additional time as needed.
Athletes who speed up the recovery process on their own in order to get back on the field because they don’t want to let down their team may be putting themselves at great risk for going back to play but without the confidence needed to play freely and at a peak level. It is for this reason that the mental aspects of injury recovery be addressed and mental training skills used in order to provide for the best chance of a successful career post-injury.
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