Eight ways athletes can rebound from injuries
The following is a chapter excerpt from the new book Control Your Off the Field Concerns published by Championship Performance. It is addressed directly to athletes.
By Alan Goldberg, Ed.D.
An athlete's psychological response to his or her injury will go a long way to how quickly and effectively they get back to full strength. After an injury, athletes often go through phases which are displayed by the following responses:
1) Denial. They may downplay or ignore the seriousness of the injury, falsely believing that everything is OK.
2) Anger. Sometimes athletes adopt a “why me” attitude and act hostile to teammates and coaches.
3) Bargaining. Some athletes get into the bargaining stage: “If I do this or do that, I'll be able to get back on the field.”
4) Depression sets in when they realize it may take longer than anticipated to get back to full strength. Symptoms include overeating, sleep disturbance, and low energy.
5) Acceptance. At the end of this process, the athlete comes to accept his/her situation and make the best of it.
Recommendation: Here are eight ways athletes can best handle injuries from a psychological perspective.
1) Be sad - for a time. Allow yourself to mourn and feel whatever loss you are experiencing. Being "macho," "strong" or "brave" by burying or hiding the feelings in this situation is not only a waste of energy, but it will interfere with you effectively coping and recovering.
2) Deal with what is. Injured athletes tend to focus on the ‘could have beens’ and ‘should have beens’ and the ‘way it was if only I hadn't gotten hurt.’ The fact is that no amount of wishful thinking will change the reality of the situation. Allow yourself to deal with where you are now.
3) Set new, more realistic goals. As you begin the recovery process, you may have to measure success differently than ever before. It may mean you have to concentrate on building up basic strength levels. Keep focused on recovery goals and leave the old ones in the past - for now - until a full recovery is made.
4) Take an active part in your healing. Be conscientious about your physical therapy. Follow your doctors’ and trainers’ advice closely. Also, practice using healing imagery on a daily basis. If you are recovering from a broken bone or separated shoulder, spend 5 to 10 minutes imagining the bone or shoulder beginning to heal. See in your mind’s eye a healthy supply of red blood cells surrounding that area and facilitating the healing process. There isn't scientific evidence that using imagery speeds up the healing process, but it will make you feel more in control of the healing process.
5) Continue to ‘practice.’ and ‘work out.’ If your injury allows you to do even a portion of your training, continue as much as possible. If not, practice mentally by rehearsing in your mind how you will execute your assignments and be in proper position to run a pattern, swim a race, or make a perfect pass, etc. Attend some practice sessions and visualize what you will do once healthy.
6) Seek out the support of your teammates. Participate in team functions. Fight the urge to isolate yourself. You may feel worthless and suddenly different, but chances are you are the only one that feels that way. Reach out - don't pull away.
7) Think about how to use your sports experience in other areas of your life. If your injury forces you into permanent retirement you may feel that you have little or no skills or expertise that you could transfer from your sport. Nothing could be further from the truth. To excel in athletics, you have to have dedication, commitment, persistence, motivation, the ability to manage time, and how to master setbacks. These are all valuable skills you can apply to other areas of your life.
8) Be patient. If your injury is temporary, allow yourself enough time to heal properly. If you are anxious to get back in the thick of things and rush the healing process, you may set yourself up for another injury which will cost you in even more time away.
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