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Injury is the one thing that no athletes want, but it is also an unavoidable part of being a professional athlete. In the path to reach the elite level, athletes have gone through big or small injuries. Some of them take longer to recover than other, and there are those that left such a strong impact on athlete’s mentality that they may never be the same again. In part 1 of this post, I will discuss how injuries may affect athlete’s mentality, 5 stages of injury recovery. In part 2, I explain some mental exercises to assist their mental recovery.

injured footballers may lose confidence

An injury may lead to many changes such as:

· Difficulties sleeping

· Changes in your appetite

· Worries about returning your sport

· Fear of re-injuring yourself

· Loss of confidence in yourself

· Drastic mood swings

· Distancing from loved one

There are several negative emotions that come with injury: Sad, Isolated, Irritated, Frustrated, Unmotivated, Angry, Anxious. They come from four main issues:

1. Identity loss:

Elite athletes usually identify themselves based on their sport and their achievement. When athletes can no longer participate because of an injury, they may experience a loss of personal identity. That is, an important part of themselves is lost, seriously affecting self-concept (who I am?).

2. Fear and anxiety

When injured, athletes can experience high levels of fear and anxiety. They worry whether they will recover, if re-injury will occur, and whether someone will replace them permanently in the lineup. Because the athlete cannot practice, and compete, there’s plenty of time for worrying.

3. Lack of confidence

Given their inability to practice and compete, and their deteriorated physical status, athletes can lose confidence after an injury. Lowered confidence can result in decreased motivation, inferior performance, or additional injury because the athlete overcompensates.

4. Performance decrements

Because of the lowered confidence and missed practice time, athletes may suffer post-injury performance declines. Many athletes have difficulty lowering expectations after an injury and expect to return to a per-injury level of performance.

Typically, an injured athlete would go through 5 stages of response:

1. Denial

Athletes can’t believe injury has happened and downplay its significance. Denial is functional when it protects the athlete from being overwhelmed by negative emotions, but problematic when failure to recognize the severity of the injury results in low level of motivation for rehabilitation.

They may say things like: “it is not so bad”

2. Anger

After reality of injury sets in, anger follows. It could be anger toward themselves or other.

“I am so stupid…, Why did I make a fowl when we are winning?”

3. Bargaining

Rationalize to avoid dealing with the reality of the trauma

E.g., I’ll do …., only if….

“Can we just do 1 exercise instead of 2 or 3?”

4. Depression

Reality sets in, experiences depressions & uncertainty. They lose previous capabilities & personal control.

e.g. “it still hurts… It’s hopeless”.

5. Acceptance

Finally, accept the reality of injury and ready to focus on rehab

“Although I’m injured, I must try to help the team and do as much as I can to come back”

The more severe the injury, the longer the recovery-rehabilitation period, the more prolonged and profound the mood disturbances.It is very important if you are working with an injured athlete to move their mentality from denial to acceptance quickly. Only then, both the psychological and physical rehabilitation can take place.

Athletes’ ability to overcome the physical challenges and manage emotions will determine their adherence to rehabilitation programme.

Athletes who fail to achieve both are likely:

· To not comply with their rehabilitation programme

· To be more anxious

· To suffer a loss of self-confidence and/or identity

· To return to sport prematurely

· Drop out of competitive sport

Mental recovery for injured soccer players

When you or your athletes show below signs, it could be a potential problematic adjustment to athletic injuries. (adapted from Petitpas and Danish 1995)).

· Feelings of anger and confusion

· Obsession with the question of when one can return to play

· Denial (e.g. “the injury is no big deal”)

· Repeatedly coming back too soon and experiencing reinjury

· Exaggerated bragging about accomplishments

· Dwelling on minor physical complaints

· Guilt about letting the team down

· Withdrawal from significant others

· Rapid mood swings

· Statement indicating that no matter what is done, recovery will not occur.

Continue reading part 2 of this article here:


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