Healthy mindsets crucial for athletes recovering from serious injuries

(Editor’s note: Report by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com)

Imagine for a moment that you’ve worked unbelievably hard to be in the position you are in, and poor circumstances pull that position away from you. These circumstances are different for everybody. For athletes who devote a lot of time and effort to increasing their skills and abilities, sports injuries are generally the culprit.

What makes an injury traumatic to the athlete? It’s an important question that isn’t asked enough. For many athletes, injuries are completely unique, and they struggle with their injuries and subsequent returns to sport. If injuries do happen, they come with a good dose of shock and confusion, not to mention a wide range of emotions that aren’t generally experienced in everyday lives.

Multiple studies show that there are three general categories of an athlete’s response to injury and the rehabilitation that comes with it. One category is information processing, where the athlete is recognizing the details and extent of the injury. The second is emotional and reactive behavior. This is where an athlete might feel irritated, isolated, or emotionally depleted because of what has happened. And the last category involves positive outlook and coping. It’s important to recognize that not all athletes will experience all of these behaviors or emotions, or they may not experience them in a set order.

What can athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and parents do? In the area of sport psychology there are a lot of techniques that consultants will use with athletes, and some of them have surprisingly positive outcomes.

In a support role for the injured athlete, coaches, trainers and parents have a list of things they can do to help: build rapport, educate, and support. They should make time to have real relationships with the athlete, so they will respond much better if injury occurs; give that athlete all of the knowledge possible about their injury and rehab, so they can set milestone goals; and, most importantly, empathize with the experience of that athlete.

As far as athletes go, they can do their best to change their perspectives. Seriously injured athletes generally have a shift in their views on sports participation. They aren’t so worried about the small things anymore, they just want to play. They long for those valuable experiences that sports can give them. Pair that with an attitude that focuses on the positives of their current situation, as hard as that might be, and that athlete will be mentally ready to go when he or she physically recovers.

Speaking of those valuable experiences in sports, organizations like the Montana High School Association are advocating for participation in multiple sports. Track and field, for example, not only provides physical benefits of participation (injury prevention being one), but plenty of mental benefits, as well. Athletes get to compete in a new way and test their limits in a new area, which will always transfer to the other sports they play. It will also keep them from experiencing burnout, a total lack of motivation due to over-training.

As young people seek healthy minds and healthy bodies, sports will always be a way to provide those benefits, as long as athletes — and their support systems — have the right mindsets.

Danny Desin

About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a prospective Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).

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