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%
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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