Mental skills for dealing positively with injury in sport

You have been training hard, you are committed to your sport, you are enjoying success and then you get an injury.  Many athletes at some point have to deal with this aspect of sport.  Whether acute or chronic, injuries can be stressful and challenging for athletes and non-athletes alike.


Besides physical issues of pain, recovery from injury can test one’s motivation, confidence, and at times, personal identity.  Athletes are use to regular training and injury can throw a wrench in how you operate in your day-to-day life as well as how you see yourself. Dealing with these adjustments and maintaining optimism in the recovery process is important aspect for mental well-being as well as the speed of recovery.


Ievleva & Orlick (1991) found that injured athletes who healed at a faster rate reported a greater use of the psychosocial strategies of goal-setting, positive self-talk and imagery.  In another article, by Driediger, Hall, & Callow, Journal of Sport Sciences, March 2006, imagery was used by athletes to picture their goals and think about getting back to their sport.  They also used imagery during physiotherapy appointments to rehearse specific movements or rehabilitation exercises.  While other athletes used imagery for healing by imagining what the injury looked like and pictured how the healing would occur.


An injury sometimes provides that extra push to start paying more attention to the mental and emotional side of sport and life.  Athletes and other individuals can learn to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings in the recovery process and regularly assess if their attitudes are empowering or creating discouragement.


Here are two negative thinking traps to be mindful of that lead to discouragement –

Unrealistic expectations – frustration can develop when you have unrealistic or unclear time frames for recovery.  It is important to regularly assess with your health supporters to establish smart goals and realistic plans for re-engagement in your sport.

All or nothing thinking – negative emotions and thoughts can develop when we focus on what we can’t do, rather than what we can do.  Athletes may be frustrated because they think they have to miss practices and valuable time with their team or training groups.  It is positive for athletes keep connection with their sport.  By going to practice, you can still watch and learn plays and work on your visualization skills.  Seeing yourself in your mind’s eye working on skills can be an excellent source of motivation.

Improving personal mindfulness during the recovery process can pay dividends in increased self-awareness when you get back to competing.

In addition to increasing self-awareness and visualization skills, here is a list of a few things points to keep in mind in helping the recovery process be a positive one.


–  Empower yourself with information by asking good questions from your health practitioners and gathering a variety of opinions to consider

–  Establish a good working relationship with the health practitioners you trust.  Recovery is not always a straight forward process, but one that needs to be monitored and assessed along the way.

–  In collaboration with your health care providers get clear on your recovery plan

–  Be aware if you are feeling discouraged and ask for support to process the thoughts and feelings you are having

–  Regularly mark, note, highlight and recognize signs of progress!!!

–  Keep connected with your sport, by attending practices, meetings, and games

–  Make a commitment to developing your visualization skills; it is a skill that can be improved with practice and it is a great time to do it!!!!


On a final note, injury can be a pause from regular routine and provide added time for personal reflection.  You might even expand how you see yourself and identify new aspects about who you are in terms of interests and abilities. There can be a deeper recognition of the coping skills you have and the ones you can develop.  Recovery from injury has the potential to strengthen your motivation and personal resiliency for overcoming obstacles that can be continually applied to sport and life.