6 Mental Toughness Hacks for Injured Athletes

Injuries are unfortunately a part of the world of being an athlete, even a corporate athlete.  I feel bad however when I witness so many athletes having the wrong experiences through their injury and especially returning to injury. Here are 6  techniques to help the injured athlete. 

mental toughness hacks for injured athletes


Athletes will experience getting depressed. Feeling the blues, getting down, sad, and angry are normal, so expect it. Remind yourself that this is temporary. These Mental Toughness Hacks include being patient and saying “this too shall pass.” Click here if you want more information on Mental Toughness Coaching.

Remember,  It’s not about the setback; it’s about the comeback.

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the books on Mental Toughness 

Injuries suck!

They are one of the toughest things an athlete will handle. Often, athletes do not deal well with injuries either. The way athletes cope with life issues is through their sport. If they are playing well, then everything is okay. However, once an athlete is injured, their source of coping is removed and issues can become severe.

Most athletes that are injured and can’t play, experience some sort of depression. They have lost the most precious part of their identity, so they will grieve and not know how to deal. They will become angry, sad, and feel isolated. They immediately become a lesser part of the team; heck even their rehab is done away from the team practice.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed.

Timing is everything

Injuries cause stress and when it is an important part of the season, it is way more difficult for an athlete to handle. In 2008, future Hall of Fame running back, LaDainian Tomlinson was injured in the playoffs and couldn’t play. He was criticized for how he handled the situation as a leader, but this is often what happens when athletes become hurt during critical parts of the season. They simply don’t know how to cope.

On the other hand, injuries that occur in the off-season, or pre-season can be dealt with more care. Depending on the prognosis, there is more hope that they can return, which can provide a motivating fuel for rehab.

Sport Psychology is needed

Coaches are focused on the team and personnel they have, so there isn’t much time to devote to an injured athlete. Thus, Athletic Trainers and Sport Psychology coaches are crucial when an athlete is injured. Athletes on the sidelines are more than willing to talk and this is where real support takes place, helping an athlete cope in healthy ways and channel their focus in positive directions.

Return at 100%

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

RGIII of the Washington Redskins made it public that he was going to return for week 1 of the 2013 NFL season. He did, but he was not healthy. I am not certain he was healthy at all last season and he lost confidence and performed poorly.

Athletes almost always return from their injury too soon. In the athletes mind, they feel close to the same as before the injury, however after returning too fast, they soon discover that they are off. They may feel fine for 9 out of 10 plays, but that one play where they can’t cut, accelerate, or move like before causes doubt. Physically, it causes them to muscle guard and protect the injured area.

Doubt, which has never been there before is suddenly present. Doubt causes slight hesitations, over-thinking, or even trying to do too much. As a result of the doubt and less than stellar play, they lose confidence!

It takes a village. Teammates, coaches, and loved one’s all need to support the athlete to return when completely healthy and in game shape.

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kid: Build Their Mental Toughness   

Five days into college softball practice, my world came crashing down….I tore my rotator cuff. It was a Hinge moment, because injuries for athletes are tragedies and tragedies are immediate hinges… I was devastated and in more pain than I had ever been in before.

I was an athlete and being an athlete was all I had ever known.  Up until this point I thought I was invincible, but without softball, I was lost.  I turned to softball whenever anything in life went wrong and that wasn’t an option anymore. I was tired of being in pain, tired of my teammates asking when I would return, and tired of everyone telling me that I would be good as new.

Before I knew it, my ability to study, eat, sleep, or enjoy any aspect of life was gone.  I had given my life to the sport and now it was gone. The thought of life without softball was unimaginable.

My coaches wrote me off, my doctors gave up on me, and my teammates moved on…I was told I was not “meant” to be a softball player. I started combining the painkillers with alcohol to intensify the effect. The combination made everything disappear and I felt completely numb! I hit rock bottom.


The Hinge is the moment that makes all of the difference. There are a few in this journey, and I was determined, tenacious, and would do whatever it took to rise up…

I asked for help… I came clean to my parents about being depressed. I had lost my confidence and needed to find a way.

When I returned to campus I picked up my glove and began throwing left-handed…Yep! Left-handed…

I still needed a second surgery to repair my rotator cuff.  Sweat and tears became my motivation.  My range of motion was limited, but I kept pushing through the pain. Against all odds, I was in the starting line up by the time season started!

I transferred to the University of Dayton, where I finished the rest of my career.  My final two years were a constant struggle, but no one could wipe the smile off my face. I was grateful that it paid off.

Our test becomes our testimony…

I wouldn’t have wished it, but I learned so many things from the experience. I was reminded of my strength even in my weakest moments and I gained mental toughness that I previously had not had. I also learned to be a really great coach, which is what I do today!

The Hinge is real and it makes all the difference….

photo About the Author: Alisha Burnstein is a softball coach in Indianapolis, and associate of DRB. Contact information is