By Karlene Sugarman, M.A.

In sports, and in life, things do not often go as planned and there are glitches that need to be dealt with - like injuries. Every time you step out on the field you run the risk that you might sustain an injury. Not being able to play is every athlete's greatest fear. Mentally dealing with an injury can sometimes be more frustrating than the physical aspect.
You see, it is what you do after you get hurt that can effect how quickly you get back out on the field:

  • Let yourself feel sad, mad, upset - Whatever emotions accompany your injury, don't repress anything. Even if you hold it in for now, it will have to come out sooner or later.
  • Deal with what has happened, don't dwell on "if only." It won't do any good and chances are, that way of thinking will slow down your recovery time anyway.
  • Set new goals - Set rehabilitation goals for yourself. Be patient and just focus on the new goals you have set, not on past goals. Set goals you can succeed at and will help build your confidence level.
  • Positive attitude - If there was ever a time that you would benefit from a positive mental attitude, it is now. It can help speed up your recovery. Positive self-talk can help in your recovery from injuries.
  • Practice visualizing - If you practice visualization your nervous system remains in tune to your skills and you move along much quicker when you get the green light to start practicing again.
  • Practice relaxation - Relaxation improves the blood flow by dilating your blood vessels. This increased circulation to the injured areas is good for speeding up recovery time.
  • Seek out support - Do everything you can to stay involved with your team. Do not alienate yourself. Attend as many practices and games as possible. Do what you can to stay involved.
  • Keep the lines of communication open - Clear communication between you and your trainer, you and your coach, you and your teammates is very important to the rehabilitation process.
  • Be patient - Take it one day at a time, don't rush back. Doing things in excess and extremes may be what lead to the fatigue and injury in the first place. You do not want to return too early and risk getting injured again.

Mental training techniques can be used in a preventative approach to contribute to an injury-free environment. By mentally practicing you decrease your chances of injury due to the fact that you have taken away some of the emotional hassles that many times lead to stress and injury. With stress and anxiety comes muscle tension, which could cause you to strain a muscle. When you are stressed you also have a shorter attention span and limited visual field, which also contribute to the possibility of injury. You may not have control over getting injured in the first place, by you DO have control over what you do from there - so take control! (Adapted from Winning the Mental Way: A Practical Guide to Team Building and Mental Training, 1999.)

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