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How to help injured athlete recover mentally? Part 2

1. Build rapport with injured person

a. Taking his/her stand, and think about how he/she must feel.

b. Providing contact details so they can ask questions if any

c. Being realistic but empathy:

i. E.g: “This is tough, Tom, and you will have to work hard to get through this injury. But I’m in this with you and together we can get you fit again.”

ii. When talking to injured athlete, avoid words on the red, use words on the blue

injured soccer players lose self-identity easily

2. Educate athlete about injury & recovery process

  1. Provide a clear and accurate assessment of the injury, recovery timeline and rehabilitation process. I like to use an anatomy atlas book to show athletes exactly where their injury happens.

  2. Instill a sense of personal responsibility & control.

  3. About 50% of injured athletes felt their physicians were impersonal and did not provide enough information about their injury (Macchi & Crossman, 1996).

3. Teach specific psychological coping skills

  1. Setting goals

  • Decreases fears and directs energies productively.

injured tennis player sets goal for recovery

  • Help athletes establish rehabilitation schedules.

  • Establishes an appropriate timescale with concrete performance markers.

  • Engages athlete as an active partner in decision making

  • Provide opportunities for self-evaluation and recording.Ensure individual progress is self-referenced.

  • Below are examples of some programs taken from physiotherapists with different steps to help athletes get back to their normal playing ability. Having a guideline like this is a good benchmark that athlete can strive for during the rehabilitation.

b. Using relaxation and imagery

· Work through the athletes’ negative memories and expectations surrounding the initial injury. It is important to remove the negative memories of the injury by using erasing technique in visualization.

· Speed up healing process by visualizing blood flows to the injured area and heal the painful parts.

· Visualize themselves play with confidence again after the injury. For example: if an athlete is recovered from a knee injury, he/she may feel not confident about putting full force on the injured leg. They need to learn to visualize that they can play normally with the newly recover leg and able to do twist and turn like before.

· When an athlete learns stress management techniques through relaxation technique such as breathing or PMR, the threat of injury becomes less.

Mental steps to recover ACL injury

c. Positive self-talk

· Use verbal encouragement

· Thought stoppage and restructuring. When they notice themselves think negative, say stop and rethink to something positive using reframe technique.

d. Identify/ Provide positive role models

4. Prepare athlete to cope with setbacks

· Teach athletes about the effect of stress on injury. High daily stress and high cognitive or somatic anxiety can predict high injury time loss. High defensive pessimism, and high degree of life stress can lead to more illness/injury symptoms. Positive mood may buffer the effects of potentially stressful situations

• Address fears of returning to sports. Avoid dangerous attitudes such as: “I’m worthless once I’m injured”, “I must give 110%”, “Pain is good”.

• Teach athletes psychological coping skills such as focus under pressure, confidence, self-regulate activation levels.

5. Foster social support from significant others, coach and team mates

· Effort of coach and teammates to involve injured players to all other activities of the team.

Example Mancity players wear Gundogan Tshirt when he broke his ACL

social support helps injured player follow rehab program

· Connections with other injured athletes, particularly those with similar injuries seems to be helpful

· Emotional support was especially important when the rehab process was slow, setbacks were experienced, or other life demands placed additional pressure on the athlete

· Provide a safe environment for them to express and learn ways to deal with their feelings

When you should refer your injured athlete to a sport psychologist

When the athlete…

· Disbeliefs / Disengages from the rehabilitation process

· Is easily distracted during the rehabilitation process

· Withholds effort out of fear of re-injury / failure

· Loses focus easily when pain intensifies or demands increase

· Is unable to set and attain meaningful goals

· Is unable to control negative self-talk

The psychologist can assist:

a) Pre-surgery:

- To help athletes mentally prepare and manage expectations of their performance in relation to their rehabilitation programme.

b) Post-surgery:

- Pace the athlete’s mental recovery along with their physical recovery.

- Help them manage their emotions (incl. negative memories and expectations surrounding the initial injury)

c) Using other athletes with similar injuries as ‘role models’ to indicate successful return to competitive sport

If you want to read again part 1, please click here


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