HOW CAN YOU HELP the Injured Sportsperson?

With Dr Simon Payne Psychological Performance Coach

“HOW CAN YOU HELP the Injured Sportsperson?”

Injury is an unavoidable aspect of sport participation, and the psychological damage often lingers longer than the physical. If you are parent, teammate, or friend of an injured sportsperson then you no doubt care about their recovery, so here are some tips to guide the support you offer. (NB. To coaches: you are “on the front line” of sport injuries, so contact me about this aspect of your “craft” because there are lots of specific ways that I can help you to assist your athletes’ psychological recovery (e.g., removing re-injury anxiety, re-gaining self-belief.)

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1. Does the athlete have professional guidance to achieve the physical aspects of their recovery? Even if the injury seems minor, expert opinion should be sought; better that than regret it later if the injury proves to be more severe than first thought.

2. Have you spoken to the athlete about what they are going through, or is it your impression? Your approach must be based on solid information, and if you establish yourself as central in their support network they are more likely to provide honest information about their injury. Indeed, if the athlete’s default reaction is to withdraw and dwell on their “bad luck,” many associated problems with recovery can be diverted if you step in and remove this typically negative coping mechanism. You can use this experience to strengthen your bond for any future issues, and the athlete should reciprocate your support too.

3. It depends on the stage they are at on their recovery journey, but here are some signs to help you identify when an athlete is struggling psychologically with their recovery: non-acceptance of the injury; denial of seriousness or extent of injury; obvious signs of depressed mood, sadness, anger, and obvious changes in behaviour; decreased contact with coaches and teammates; non-attendance at training or games despite encouragement; non-adherence to rehab exercises or appointments – i.e., failure to take responsibility for their own rehab; conversely, overdoing rehabilitation; bargaining with physio or club staff over treatment and time out of competition; non-compliance and non-cooperation with club staff; evidence of excessive drinking, related photos and comments on Facebook. And when they return to action: hesitant play; excessive excuse-making for not coming to training, especially if atypical to the athlete; and frequent re-injury.

4. Whether or not there is a problem, promote a healthy message by talking about and treating the injury as a challenge to be positively approached: “Injury is an unavoidable part of sport that all players face on their journey to reach their potential, and attitude to injury recovery is one thing that will set you apart from your peers.” In fact, there are benefits to be derived from the injury recovery period (see Figure One). Of course, the athlete may experience pressure stemming from worry about skill loss and their place on the team being usurped, or a fear of re-injuring the body part and a loss of trust in it, and maybe this is contributing to low mood, a short temper, or any of the symptoms, above. If so, the athlete will require practical tools to remain positive and focused on recovery. You could prompt them to find out about, and/or help them engage with, techniques such as imagery, self-talk, mindfulness, and goal-based action plans. CHECK IN NEXT TIME for an introduction to these tools and techniques!

Alternatively, ask Simon directly by connecting with him through any of the channels listed below.

Returning to point #1, coping well with injury involves being realistic about when to come back and being ready for setbacks. The tools I will describe in the next issue will help the athlete with their role in this, but you and their professional supporters are crucial too – you provide the social and physical parameters around which the psychological tools can be put to use! Please (1) ensure that the athlete has professional help for the physical side of the injury, (2) keep an eye out for warning signs that they aren’t coping with the injury, and (3) positively reinforce the message that they must be proactive and central in their own recovery by learning about psychological tools that will help them view and manage the injury as a challenge, not a threat!

Your Excellence Unlocked

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Psychological Performance Coaching with Dr Simon Payne, CPsychol

For further information please visit www.yourexcellenceunlocked.com, www.facebook.com/YEUswansea, or search “Dr Simon Payne Swansea Linkedin” for his professional profile. Please follow Simon on Twitter @YEU_Swansea). For an informal chat about your experiences in sport call Simon at Your Excellence Unlocked on 07450517963

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