The will to win and the drive to push performance to its limits mean that injuries come as part of the territory for most athletes.
As such, sustaining an injury can be a very traumatic experience for an athlete, especially if he or she requires surgery and/ or a long period of rehabilitation, which results in a pro-longed absence from their sport.
Much attention is given to help the injured part of an athlete’s body, but the health of the mind is often neglected during the period of injury and when the athlete returns to sport. This means that some athletes struggle when they resume training and competition, because they are not psychologically ready.
This can vary from person to person, and is dependent on a multitude of factors, such as the personality of the athlete, the type of injury sustained, the psychological and physical trauma when the injury occurred, and the length of time an athlete is away from his or her sport.
However, for some endurance athletes, returning to sport will provoke anxiety. It is important to note that we can feel anxious when there is uncertainty about what may happen in the future. This could relate to performance, or doubts about whether the injured body part will be strong enough after rehabilitation.
Experiencing anxiety is unpleasant and may result in athletes focusing on negative ‘what ifs’ such as:
- What if I break down again?
- What if I can’t get back to my previous level of performance?
- What if I get a compensation injury?
- What if I have to go through another lengthy rehabilitation again?
Sport is both a physical and a mental game. It is vital to understand both aspects in dealing with injury in order to achieve a successful return to play.