3 Essential Mental Skills That Help Athletes Recover Injuries

Sports psychology tips and tricks for injured athletes

No one likes to think about it, but injury is part of the risk that comes with being an athlete. If you’ve ever been injured, you know there are different stages you move through, from the moment you get injured to the time you’re back in action. Working your way through this process can feel like an emotional rollercoaster and each stage during this process comes with its own unique fears, frustrations, and challenges.

Getting Injured

High amounts of stress have both a physiological and psychological impact and can interfere with the healing process. Having a positive outlook is imperative for a successful recovery. Prepare yourself ahead of time for potential setbacks in your recovery so you know exactly how you want to react in that situation in order to stay positive and confident. If you work on just one thing during this part of your recovery, do this:

Relax and Stay Positive

Your emotional response to your injury has a direct influence on your rate of recovery. You can choose to focus on what you’re missing out on or choose to look forward to what you will accomplish. Balance out this stressful time by doing things that are enjoyable to you. Additionally, many athletes take this time to work on other parts of their fitness and come back stronger than they were before their injury. Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t do helps you to regain some sense of control over the situation and better cope with a sports injury.

Back to Training

Your initial return to sport is often the most difficult both physically and mentally. This is when you get to test yourself out; take your newly rehabilitated body out for a trial run. Different issues can arise with your initial return to sport. You may not feel ready to trust your injured body part yet.

You may be feeling pretty good and want to push too hard too soon. Athletes may return to sport before they’re ready because they feel like they are falling behind on their training, feel they should be recovering faster, or are pushing to be fully recovered by a particular event. If you work on just one thing during this part of your recovery, do this:

Adjust Your Goals

The first part of adjusting your goals is accepting where you are. If you’ve been injured, what you were capable of before probably isn’t realistic at this time. It’s easy for your confidence to spiral down when you are focused on where you think you should be compared to where you are. One important thing to do during this phase is to celebrate your milestones - from increasing your weight for strength training, to your first time being able to run for 20 minutes, to your first full practice - recognizing your progress helps build your confidence. Setting new goals helps you focus on what is in your control. Each week you should set your goals, chart your progress, evaluate, and then set a new goal for the following week.

Back to Competition

Fear of re-injury is a common issue when returning to competition. When you trigger your stress response you experience attentional and physiological changes that make you more likely to be injured. Your muscles will be more tense which causes you to be less flexible, less coordinated, and fatigue more quickly. Attentional changes include a loss of peripheral vision, slower reaction time, and you can become more easily distracted. If you work on just one thing during this part of your recovery, do this:

Proactively Boost Your Confidence

During injury, your confidence atrophies right along with your muscles and sometimes your body is ready to get back into sport before your brain is. While you’re building your muscles for the return, build your confidence by creating a list of sport affirmations. Before practice or any time you feel frustrated or experience a dip in your confidence, pull out your list and read through your affirmations. Here are some examples:

  • My body is getting stronger every day.
  • I am relaxed and confident.
  • My body is ready for this.
  • I’m excited to get back into my sport.

Getting injured can be psychologically devastating. It sometimes takes a deliberate and conscious effort to re-build confidence and deal with the emotional aftermath of getting injured and the fears of getting re-injured. Remember to stay positive, focus on what is in your control, and you’ll come back even stronger than you were before you were injured.


Applied Sports Psychology[appliedsportpsych.org]. last accessed 8/2012

Sports Psychology[sportpsychology.com]. last accessed 8/2012

Injured Athletes[www.injuredathletes.org]. last accessed 8/2012

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