Injury Management Mental Skills
You can overcome injury challenges by putting specific mental skills into play. Cognitive skills help reduce stress, speed recovery time, and prepare you for peak performance.
The following mental skills are effective management strategies for injured athletes:
Perspective – Perspective is the lens through which you view your circumstances. Perspective should never be defined in black-or-white terms. That is, no one is either all positive or all negative. So, a slight shift in perspective will be all you need. When you shift your perspective, you still acknowledge that it sucks to be injured. However, you look for ways to make the best of your situation.
- “I can use my time to evaluate past performances objectively and find ways to improve future performances.”
- “I can improve my technique by watching my teammates perform.”
- “I can finally dedicate time to improving my mental game.”
- “Rehab will help strengthen my weaker body parts.”
Relaxation – Learning relaxation strategies benefit the healing process and your ability to compete in stressful conditions.
- Relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation, have been used for decades to assist in injury recovery.
- Other relaxation strategies (mindfulness and meditation) can lessen the stress you experience while injured.
- Another benefit of relaxation is the management of competitive emotions. Deep breathing during competitions can help you manage pressure and perform at your peak under duress.
Imagery/ Visualization – While you have a break from competing, you can take advantage of mastering the mental skill of imagery, sometimes called visualization. Most elite and Olympic athletes utilize imagery to assist with managing the injury process, honing mechanics, performing under pressure, overcoming mistakes in competition, or performing at their peak. In addition, research has shown that imagery can help the body heal faster in conjunction with rehab exercises.
In addition, imagery can help ease the transition back into competition. Visualizing a successful comeback can help lessen anxiety. You will feel more confident heading into the first post-injury competition when you “see” yourself playing without being overly cautious.
Goal Setting – No one stumbles upon success. Accomplishing anything of significance requires goal setting. Recovering from an injury is not different. When you set goals and timelines for rehab, you gain control over your destiny.
The first step in injury management goal setting is to identify your goal, for example, full recovery from an ACL sprain. Next, specify a target date or when you plan to return to competition with the guidance of a medical professional. Then, create a treatment plan, including rehab and physical and mental training. As you go through the process, evaluate your progress and adjust the plan as necessary.
You can use this same format for setting athletic goals:
- What specific, realistic goal do you want to accomplish?
- When is your target date?
- How will you achieve your goal? What does your plan include?
- Who will you enlist to help you along the way?
- How will you measure and evaluate your progress?
In sum, injuries happen. Injuries suck. While you can’t change the fact you are injured, you can control how you react to your circumstances. Remember, in sports and life, perspective is everything!