Lets face it, being injured stinks; especially as an athlete. If you’re a competitive athlete and have experience with injuries, you’re no stranger to the fact that the physical pain you feel is just a small part of the long-term pain that lies ahead in the path to a full recovery (Goldberg, 2016). We’ve all heard the phrase, “Just walk it off, you’ll be fine.” Coaches and parents may be unaware of how severe injuries may be, and at times push athletes to work through the pain (Groom, 2013). However, this unawareness can be detrimental to an athlete’s future – both physically and mentally. It is extremely important to educate coaches and parents on the important role that a healthy mentality plays in an athlete’s recovery and performance.
Many athletes become overwhelmed by a variety of internal and external losses when they are sidelined for an injury. Without their sport and the time in their life it consumes, they have a void in that “sense of self” they now need to fill (Goldberg, 2016). In most cases, athletes commit so much of their free time to their sport that other non-athletic activities seem out of place, and an injury can make this newfound “void” seem even worse. It’s important that the athlete finds a healthy activity with which they can occupy themselves. Not doing so can open the door to bad habits, such as unnecessarily reducing their caloric-intake, as they may feel they aren’t working out and “don’t deserve” to eat (Putukian, 2014). This can quickly escalate into a bigger problem of an emerging eating disorder or a negative view of their body. And that’s on top of concerns about recovering from the injury itself. In most cases, injured athletes experience some sort of depression which can evolve into an issue that may persist throughout their lives. This is another reason it is extremely important for injured athletes to get the help they need and are physically and mentally healthy before returning to play.
One of the most difficult and common issues for injured athletes to come back from is a concussion. With a physical injury such as a break, tear, or strain, there is often a set path to recovery and rehabilitation. However, with concussions, the timeline for recovery and being able to return to sport is less known (Putukian, 2014). Many athletes experience slower cognitive functioning in daily activities, making it even more frustrating to process and work through recovery. Often, those suffering from a concussion experience a wide range of new emotions in addition to difficulties in cognitive functioning. Given these compounded factors, it is not uncommon for student-athletes to see a decline in their academic performance as well. Poorer grades can be even more emotionally taxing, as many student-athletes are driven to excel in many areas of their lives – sport and otherwise. One of the most difficult aspects for athletes recovering from a concussion is having to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else compete. Physically, they feel able to compete, but it can be far more difficult coming to grips with a brain injury.
Physical injury or not, it’s important not to just “sit around and wait” for a full recovery. It is important for athletes, coaches, parents and care teams to pay close attention to treating the emotional and mental aspects that play into every recovery. Every day we are learning more and more about the recovery process and its overall impact on injured athletes. Coaches and Athletic Trainers are being educated on the best ways to treat and help care for athletes post-injury. The bar is being raised, which is good news for injured athletes in the future. For the athlete, it will take the determination and confidence to reach out for help on their path to recovery and reestablishing that sense of self. After all, it is a team effort.
Goldberg, A. (2016, June 10). Rebounding from Injuries. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from https://www.competitivedge.com/rebounding-injuries-0
Groom, T. (2013, March 08). The psychology of returning to sport after injury. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://www.running-physio.com/psychology/
Weiss, W. M. (2017). Mentally Preparing Athletes to Return to Play Following Injury. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resources/injury-rehabilitation/mentally-preparing-athletes-to-return-to-play-following-injury/
Putukian, M. (2014). Mind, Body and Sport: How being injured affects mental health | NCAA.org – The Official Site of the NCAA. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/sport-science-institute/mind-body-and-sport-how-being-injured-affects-mental-health