Develop the mind of a CHAMPION! Dr. G's most popular CDs will help you perform your BEST when it counts the MOST!
|14 Steps To Mental Toughness-MP3(Downloadable mp3)||$89.99|
|14 Steps To Mental Toughness(Audio CD)||$99.99|
THE MENTAL SIDE OF ATHLETIC INJURIES
A Coach’s and Athlete’s Guide to
Psychologically Rebounding from Injury
You've been involved in your sport longer than you can remember. As you've grown, so have your strength, endurance and technique. You've busted your butt to become as good in your sport as possible and a force to be reckoned with in competitions. Known for your work ethic, consistency and ability to come through in the clutch, you’ve been the one your team has always been able to depend on in crunch time. You live to practice and perform. You have a passion to compete. You flat out love your sport. It’s who you are! It’s how you define yourself. You have dreams to compete at school, maybe get a college scholarship…who knows… maybe even to go beyond to the next level!
Then the unthinkable happens! It seems to have slowly snuck up on you. It’s not like there was any major injury or anything. You didn’t really feel anything pull, pop or break. Perhaps it might have been a lot easier and more straightforward to deal with if you had experienced that. No, this was quite a bit more insidious. After a big competition you noticed some pain and tenderness in your shoulder. “No problem,” you thought to yourself. You’ve dealt with this stuff before. You quickly dismiss it as nothing. The next day in practice you notice that your shoulder still feels tight and sore. “No big deal!” You try to ignore it and push through the pain. When practice ends your shoulder is throbbing and you start realizing that perhaps you were a bit foolish to have forced yourself to work through the pain. That night, when you can't even lift your arm to brush your teeth, you start to get worried for the first time.
You keep telling yourself there's nothing really wrong, but the pain just won't quit. As much as you hate it, the next day you have to go to the coach and tell him you’re a little hurt. He tells you to take a few days off. You’re forced to rest and you absolutely hate it. However, even after you take two days off, the first few movements that you go through in the next practice still kill. In fact, that shoulder feels just as tight and sore as before. But how bad can it really be? Maybe you just need to take a little more time off. However, when the throbbing in your shoulder keeps you up several nights in a row and then out of two more competitions you finally get the message! Something's very wrong here and it's time to drag your butt to the doctor!
Seeing a sports medicine specialist confirms your worst fears. Your shoulder is really bad and he says that you have to be out of action for at least two to three months! He claims that you have some form of tendonitis or maybe some potential rotator cuff problems, but that’s all Greek to you. He doesn't really know how long this is going to take, but what he says next, really gets your attention. Unless you take care of that shoulder and give it enough rest, you may risk doing some permanent damage. What does that mean you ask? He tells you that if you continue to play through the pain, that you may be jeopardizing your athletic career! Is he crazy!! Is he really telling me that I may never play again!! How could that possibly be! Is this guy a quack or what? How could I even survive without my daily dose of this sport?
If you’re a serious athlete and have ever had an experience with an injury, then you KNOW that the physical hurt you feel is only one VERY small part of the overall pain that you have to go through in the rehab process. The psychological pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this psychological pain is directly addressed and "treated", your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete. Coaches and parents who are sensitive to the issues of the injured athlete help speed up the rehab process and significantly lessen the mental anguish that the athlete must struggle with. Coaches and parents who are insensitive to these very critical issues, cause further trauma to the athlete and may compromise the healing process.
To better understand what happens psychologically when an athlete is kept out of action because of an injury, it's important to briefly examine the three major functions that sport plays in the athlete’s life.
THE FUNCTION OF SPORT IN YOUR LIFE
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF INJURY
So what happens to all of these psychological goodies when you're suddenly sidelined by an injury? To put it simply, you become overwhelmed by a variety of internal and external losses. As the athlete struggles with the impact of these losses, all hell breaks loose! If the injury is significant enough to keep you out of commission for a good chunk of time, the first thing that you lose is your identity as an athlete and team member. You lose your place and role on the team. "Identity confusion" sets in. Translated into understandable English, this means that you start to question who you are if you're not constantly in the pool, out on the field, course or court practicing and competing in your sport.
An Olympic gymnast permanently sidelined from her sport because of a career-ending injury put it quite clearly. "I've been doing gymnastics since I was 6 years old. It's all I know. It’s who I am and what I do. If I'm not a gymnast then who am I really"?
Without your sport, with its’ frequent practices and competitions, you suddenly have a potentially significant vacuum in your sense of self that you have to try to fill. This is only less extreme if you have been able to expand your involvement into other activities in other areas of your life. Unfortunately, most serious athletes commit so much of their free time to excelling in their sport that other, non-athletic activities are virtually impossible.
This individual identity confusion is compounded by the fact that your injury has suddenly changed your identity and place on the team! You are no longer the leader, workhorse or clutch performer. Now your position is on the deck, bench, or sidelines with the coach and your role on the team is suddenly unclear and questionable!
Hand in hand with this sense of identity confusion comes 2 other significant losses: First, you lose you physical health and sense of invincibility. Many athletes are used to being independent and relying upon their bodies to respond as trained and directed. With the injury, you have to face the cold hard fact that your body has somehow failed you. This can be a tough pill to swallow. Furthermore, injuries frequently make you dependent upon others, i.e. doctors, trainers, physical therapists, etc.; Most athletes have a strong independent streak and hate having to depend on anyone other than themselves.
Second, you lose a major source of your self-esteem. If you get your goodies from being faster than everyone else, hitting the ball harder, throwing touchdowns or shutting an opposing player down, then you’ll get precious few good feelings from standing on the sidelines helplessly watching the action. Suddenly, you’re plagued with self-doubts and have to struggle with questions of your own self-worth. If you're not pushing others in practice, working hard on your game, and helping your team in competitions, then what real value do you have on the team? For many athletes this is probably the hardest part of their injury. It's a huge blow to your ego. Suddenly, slower or weaker athletes are taking your place and doing what you should be doing, but can no longer do.
The other significant feeling that accompanies these losses is a sense of alienation and isolation. Robbed of the limelight, unable to fulfill your old role on the team, and unable to even practice with the rest of the team, it's common to struggle with feelings that now you are suddenly very different, that you no longer fit in.
In H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights", the story of the Permian Panthers High School football team from Odessa, Texas, the author tells about the experience of Booby Miles, the team's star running back. A young man with tremendous promise and pro potential, Booby is suddenly sidelined by a career-ending injury. Instead of capturing the limelight, he now captures splinters on the bench. He becomes a forgotten man on the sidelines. With his injury, his stock on the team and in the community suddenly plummets to zero as the media, coaches and fellow teammates contribute to his sense of isolation and alienation by completely ignoring him.
The final loss that accompanies a physical injury lies in the athlete's inability to constructively cope with stress. If your sport has been a vehicle for you to tame chronic low self-esteem or manage psychic stress, an injury suddenly robs you of this familiar and comfortable coping mechanism. As a consequence you are now in an even more vulnerable position and further susceptible to the negative affects of stress and depression.
For example, a distance runner was sidelined for 4 months for the very first time in his life because of broken ribs. After he was finally given the doctor's go-ahead to resume training he was distressed to find that he was continually plagued by an inexplicable shortness of breath and feelings of intense anxiety, both of which were so bad that they actually prevented him from running the way he had before his injury. Despite the fact that the doctors had ruled out any medical reasons for his breathing problems, he continued to suffer from these symptoms.
After meeting with him I learned that he had grown up in a very abusive home and from the time that he could remember, he had dealt with his problems by literally running away from them. When his best and only way of psychologically coping, running, had been temporarily taken away by the rib injury, a lot of the problems he'd been avoiding for all those years finally caught up to him. In fact, those problems were so upsetting and anxiety provoking that they literally "took his breath away" and forced him to finally face them head on.
So what does all this loss mean to you as an athlete or to your coach? If you want to speed up the rehab process as much as possible, then you need to EXPECT certain feelings and behaviors to emerge as a result of your injury. You need to understand that these feelings and behaviors are absolutely NORMAL and a natural part of successfully coping. As with any kinds of loss, the athlete may go through a number of stages directly related to mourning. Some sport psychologists feel that these stages parallel Kubler-Ross's five stages in her discussion of death and dying: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance.
Many athletes first meet their injury with outright denial. They may downplay or ignore the seriousness of the injury, falsely believing that everything's O.K. As a consequence they may continue to train through the injury, only making matters worse. Frequently the injury is often accompanied by feelings of intense anger. The athlete may adopt a "why me, why now" attitude and act hostile and resentful to coaches, teammates, parents and friends. Some athletes then get into an internal bargaining with themselves, i.e. "if I do this and that, then maybe I'll be able to get back out there". At some point in this whole process, depression finally sets in as the athlete comes to directly realize the nature and seriousness of his/her injury and loss. The depression may entail a loss of interest in or withdrawal from once favored activities, sleep and eating disturbances (sleeping too much/insomnia, overeating/loss of appetite), low energy and possibly even suicidal thoughts and feelings. At the end of this depression stage, the athlete comes to accept his/her situation and make the best of it.
So what is the best way to handle injury so that the psychological pain is minimized?
ATHLETE STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH INJURIES:
COACHING STRATEGIES FOR HELPING THE INJURED ATHLETE COPE:
Athletic injury, whether temporary or permanent, is and always will be a painfully disruptive and uncontrollable interruption in an athlete's life. If you follow some of the guidelines put forth in this article you can speed up the rehab process and lessen the psychological and emotional pain that normally accompanies most athletic injuries. Keep in mind though that the rehab process is more often times than not very slow and painful.
Understand also that when you as an athlete first get back out there on the field or court you will naturally be preoccupied with worries about hurting yourself again. Don’t be alarmed by this. Fear of re-injury is absolutely normal. It's also pretty common for the recently recovered athlete to find herself mentally replaying the injury over and over again in her mind’s eye. This tendency to focus on "what you are afraid will happen" will distract you from the task at hand and leave you performing physically tight. In this condition, you’re actually far more vulnerable to re-injury! To counteract this natural tendency, discipline yourself to concentrate on what you WANT to have happen, NOT what you’re afraid will. Focus on what you need to do in order to execute perfectly. While this may be far easier said then done in the beginning, discipline yourself to maintain a positive focus on your performance.
Remember also that if your fear of re-injury does not diminish, or if your performance after the injury is significantly sub-par, you may be suffering from Sports PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
mp3 or CD Audio
Develop the mind of a CHAMPION! Dr. G's most popular CDs will help you perform your BEST when it counts the MOST!
Get Mentally Tough with our MOST POPULAR Peak Performance program! YOU SAVE $16!
Print or PDF Book
Dr. G.'s revolutionary new book will help you beat blocks, fears and performance anxiety for good!
Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities? FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!