Post By: Rachel Hoeft, M.A. | Wednesday, April 22, 2020

sport psychology performance INJURY

Athletic injuries are almost expected in today's competitive sports world. As athletes train even harder and the standards of success rise, many players are put at a greater risk of sustaining a season-ending injury. For this reason, it is imperative that all athletes are aware of the ways they can prevent injuries, the ups and downs of the rehabilitation process, and the people and tools they can turn to on their journey back to the sport.

The Injury & Realization

You will know it before anyone else does. You will feel it deep inside. That gut-wrenching awareness that something is just plain wrong. Prior to my first ACL tear, I had sustained plenty of sprained ankles and pulled muscles in soccer and track, so I was no stranger to pain. But this kind of pain was different--you will be sure of that immediately. And even though you know something is wrong, it's still going to suck to hear the diagnosis confirm your concerns.

The many milestones of injury rehabilitation are all unique and they impact people differently. Some athletes are moved into action by the diagnosis and other people lose control (I cried after all 4 of my diagnoses). Some athletes push harder once they hit unexpected delays whereas others feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Some surgeries go according to plan and sometimes they find more damage than expected. And sometimes the lack of pain is just as concerning as the excruciating, red-hot stinging that comes from within. All four, yes four, of my knee surgeries were different experiences and each one presented a new challenge that I needed to adapt to.

But here's the cool thing: There are ways to help yourself stave off accidental injuries, and if you are lucky enough to join the injury club and share your story with the rest of us, there are ways to guide yourself to a positive mindset.

Injury Prevention

Many times it is easy to identify when we are having an off day, even if it does not seem like much has changed. If our head is not in the game, we are susceptible to narrowed attention, greater distractibility, and increased muscle tension, all of which can increase the chance of injury (Pargman, 2007). Being present during practice and competitions can save us from a world of hurt. If you know that something is distracting you, but you just aren't sure what it is, it's best to find someone to help you talk through it, like one of our Mindurance providers! Identifying this distraction may help you analyze and resolve the issue or at least relieve some of the worries of unknown stress. This way, you aren't carrying it into your performance because, as I mentioned, distractibility is a huge component of many athletic injuries.

Additionally, many sports organizations provide access to some sort of training for common injuries in your particular sport. My club soccer team had a physical therapist come in to speak about the dangers and antecedents of ACL tears, and man, how I wish I had absorbed that information. It might have saved me the time and pain of three ACL reconstructions. I recommend that you be proactive and look into your team's resources for injury prevention ASAP and really, truly take that information in.

Got the Diagnosis--What Next?

The main thing to keep in mind during this process is that injury rehabilitation consists of two pieces, physical and mental recovery (Forsdyke, 2014). Once you can accept that this has thrown a massive wrench in your plans and progress but you are going to do your best to overcome it, the recovery becomes easier. We all know that physical therapy is part of rehabilitation, but many of us forget to acknowledge and heal the psychological trauma associated with the injury. Before our first big injury, we all thought we were invincible. Now, we are consumed by the very real awakening that we are fragile and susceptible.

Studies have identified that the most common concerns in the injury rehabilitation process are the fear of re-injury and a lack of confidence in ability (Bunzli et al., 2017; Kvist et al., 2005). No matter how confidently the physical therapist says that everything is back to normal, if the psychological trauma is left unaddressed, it will be difficult to return as the same player you once were. So here's my solution, work with your Mindurance provider to identify these fears, learn mental performance skills, and wholeheartedly apply them throughout your rehabilitation and beyond.

A couple of common areas of focus are:

1. Pain. As is to be expected, an injury doesn't feel great. You may experience 2 different sensations of pain, acute and chronic pain (Taylor & Taylor, 1998).

Acute pain is induced soon after the triggering incident. The burning sensation you feel during a workout and the soreness after are both acute pains because they have a particular antecedent and are alleviated soon afterward.

Chronic pain lasts long after the incident and needs more attention from a physician. Common lower back pain is chronic because it persists for weeks or months at a time and needs more specialized attention to alleviate.

It is important to understand the difference between these types of pain so you know when it is safe to push through the sensation and when you need more medical attention.

2.Confidence. To return to the playing field at the same level of competition, you will need to prove to yourself that you are capable. A great combination of mental skills to apply is goal setting and self-reflection. You and your physical therapist can create goals and milestones to hit throughout your recovery (i.e. walking without crutches, fully rotating your arm) and your Mindurance provider can keep you focused on the timeline with a positive mindset. As you reflect on your progress and can physically see the improvements, your confidence is likely to skyrocket (de la Vega et al., 2017). Proving to yourself that you can complete the same tasks and skills you once did will allow you to see that you are healing and improving.

I won't sugar coat it. Recovering from a severe athletic injury is not an easy process. It hurts, it's disheartening, and worst of all, you miss your sport. But treating the recovery as your new sport will make things easier to handle. The same mental strength you have applied to get this far in your athletic career will be a key component of your rehabilitation and your Mindurance Provider can teach you even more ways to overcome this temporary obstacle. You are more than capable of healing and playing again, it sometimes just helps to have someone point it out and walk you down the path. Don't go it alone. Ask your Mindurance Provider how you can get a head start on injury prevention or mentally prepare yourself for injury recovery. We all want nothing more than to see you get back into the game.


Bunzli, S., Singh, N., Mazza, D., Collie, A., Kosny, A., Ruseckaite, R., & Brijnath, B. (2017). Fear of (re) injury and return to work following compensable injury: Qualitative insights from key stakeholders in Victoria, Australia. BMC Public Health, 17(1), 313. DOI 10.1186/s12889-017-4226-7

de la Vega, R., Ruiz Barquín, R., Aguayo, E., & Márquez, S. (2017). Restoration of confidence and perception of coaches following sports injury. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1312047.

Forsdyke, D. (2014). Risk, response and recovery: Psychology of sports injury. SportEX Medicine, 1(59), 10–15

Kvist, J., Ek, A., Sporrstedt, K., & Good, L. (2005). Fear of re-injury: A hindrance for returning to sports after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 13(5), 393-397.

Pargman, D. (2007). Psychological Bases of Sport Injuries (3rd ed). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Taylor, J., & Taylor, S. (1998). Pain education and management in the rehabilitation from sports injury. The Sport Psychologist, 12, 68-85.