Research Summaries Research Summary 22 Coping with Injury - Page 5

Helping Players Cope with the Stress of Injury Assisting with the rehabilitation process Noting that most athletes set themselves a long-term goal of returning to play, the researchers suggest this can be extremely stressful, particularly if rehabilitation takes longer than first imagined, if improvements along the way are small and infrequent, or if the athlete starts to worry about whether their recovery will be worth it when they eventually return. Coaches can alleviate this stress by helping set shorter-term goals that the injured player can work towards. Shorter-term, even daily goals can give injured players targets that will help them move closer to being fit to play. Coaches can closely monitor how the player fares and adjust the challenge of short-term goals if they are too easy or difficult. The coach can also help injured players develop a more positive mindset towards rehabilitation by acknowledging progress and explaining that ups and downs are a normal part of the recovery process. In cases of more serious injury, the researchers also suggest coaches develop a buddy system whereby a fit member of the team accompanies the injured player to physiotherapy sessions. The responsibility to attend with the injured player is rotated, ensuring the individual continues to feel like an important member of the team while all teammates feel like they have contributed to their recovery. Minimising anxiety about pain and re-injury Pain can cause injured players stress, not only when they experience it, but also if they worry about when it might return. The researchers suggest something similar in regard to re-injury. Even when reaching a healthy state, players can become stressed at the thought of re-injuring themselves. To minimise this stress, they suggest a number of strategies for coaches, incorporating both mental and more tangible approaches. Firstly, healing imagery is a strategy that can help injured players gain more control over their rehabilitation. This starts by advising players to imagine themselves performing specific skills. As their recovery progresses, the images can be more complex, incorporating tactics alongside the skills. The injured player can then move on to creating positive images of the injured site, such as strengthened muscles or flexible joints. The key for the coach is to ensure the player uses imagery that aligns to where they are in the recovery process, thereby reducing the likelihood of them imagining their recovery progressing too quickly, and increasing disappointment and stress when the reality does not match. Coaches can also help their injured players turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk. For example, if they overhear them say ‘I am going to get injured again,’ the coach should advise them to rephrase this as ‘I’m going to be even stronger now I’ve recovered.’ Self-talk can help build injured players’ confidence and keep them focused on recovery, rather than causing stress from the thought of re-injuring themselves or experiencing pain. If players need more tangible help, coaches may ask teammates who have experienced similar injuries to talk to them about their experiences. The aim is to inspire them to get through the rehabilitation process. This worked for the softball player in the original article as it changed her attitude towards rehabilitation once she knew a teammate had made a full recovery and avoided re-injury.