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Sport Psychology Education No. 3 - Psychological Skills and Injury Recovery

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"I'll do anything I can to recover as soon as possible!"

Injury is an everyday problem in sport. Fortunately most athletes are so motivated to excel that they are willing to do whatever they can to return to training and competition as quickly as possible. This pamphlet will help you to understand how your mental approach can help you to recover quickly. Effective and efficient recovery from injury is influenced by how well you apply the mental skills with which you are familiar for competition preparation - actively striving to reach goals, mental rehearsal, and a positive attitude.

Psychological Response to Injury

The first step in actively managing your recovery from injury is understanding what to expect. From the time of the injury to the return to training, you may experience a variety of feelings, from the initial shock and anxiety to the fear of reinjury as you return to training. You may go through periods of depression and grief for lost goals to outright denial of any problem. Your confused and unhappy feelings are a normal response to an abnormal situation (being injured is not a "normal" situation for a motivated athlete!). So there's no need to try to hide or suppress your feelings. The sooner you let them out, the sooner you can leave them behind and get on with the important work of healing and recovery.

Using Psychological Skills to Enhance Recovery

Attitude and Outlook

  • Maintain a positive outlook and use your competitive fighting spirit to help your recovery.

Goal Setting

  • It is important that you not only want to get well but that you also plan to be well. The long term goal is obvious, but what is really helpful is realistic, daily short term goals that will help you through rehabilitation.

  • Set these goals with the physiotherapist, and keep records, just like you do in training. You can easily keep track of your progress in this way and this can help to keep up your fighting spirit when things are tough.

Positive self-talk

  • You cannot change the fact that you have been injured but you can control your thoughts about the injury and your recovery. Positively talking to yourself and others about your recovery does not mean you are denying the difficulty. It means you are actively choosing to overcome the difficulty. Negative, self-pitying or self-blaming thoughts cause distress which interferes with healing.

  • Every day say positive encouraging things to yourself about your recovery and your daily goals for recovery.

Visualization

  • Positive images of healing, and visualization of being fully recovered, have been proven to help speed up athletes recovery from injury.

  • While you are having a treatment or doing any rehabilitation exercise, visualize the injured part of your body gaining strength and recovering.

Support

  • Talk to people that you know will give you support - your family, friends, teammates, the physiotherapist, the sport psychologist, your coach.

  • Research has shown that injured or ill people who have very supportive family and friends have less distress and recover more quickly.

Getting back to training and competition

  • It is natural to have some worries when you first start training after an injury. To overcome this challenge you should start preparing mentally for the return to training long before you actually take the first step.

  • From the start of your recovery, regularly visualize yourself, confidently and calmly getting ready for training, doing the warm up, performing well and consistently, the coach praising your efforts, teammates congratulating you.

  • By doing regular skill/technique visualization while they were injured, other athletes have found that they had not lost as much as they had expected through injury.

Preventing Injury

Stress has been shown to increase the risk of injury. When you are stressed, your muscles tighten up, and your attention is not as sharp. Is not difficult then to make a slip in technique or to misjudge a movement which can result in an injury which can disrupt your training and competition goals.

  • So, learn how to manage stress. The sport psychologists can teach you the skills you need do this. It's simple - just learn how to relax, have a calm confident approach to problem solving, believe in yourself and go out and have some fun sometimes!

Where to go for help

If you are injured, and find that you cannot stop feeling sad, or thinking negatively, don't worry, help is available. Just make an appointment with the sport psychologists who can help you to help yourself!

For more information, please contact:

Sport Psychology Unit
Telephone: (852) 2681 6277

Sports Medicine Department
Telephone: (852) 2681 6134

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