Understanding The Psychology Of Injured Athletes And Returning To Play

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Jamie Robbins, PhD

   Finally, although it is not good to wait for others to support you, it is important to ask for support when you need it. Parents, coaches and doctors do not always know when someone needs more information, a push or a word of support. Although it may be hard to do, it is so important for athletes to seek the support they need. Accordingly, it is helpful for doctors, parents and coaches to know who or what resources are available to help their injured athletes through such a difficult experience.

   Research shows that most healthcare providers rarely or never refer injured athletes to a sport psychologist.10 These are the experts in the field who handle these situations daily and they should be part of the rehabilitation process.

In Conclusion

Given the intense emotions and possible negative effects associated with injury, it is clear that more education is necessary to ensure positive results for all involved. Injuries are unavoidable but they do not have to be completely devastating to one’s life and well-being if handled effectively. It is clear that injured athletes experience adversity because of the injury itself and because of the overall change to their lives and daily routines. The physical healing is sometimes easier than the mental return to play because the bone may heal and the tear may be fixed, but the mind does not change as readily.

   Therefore, it is important for all involved to understand that mending an injured athlete requires attention to both the body and the mind. One can accomplish this with better awareness, education and effort of doctors, coaches, parents and athletes alike.

   Dr. Robbins is a Sport Psychology Consultant and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Performance and Sports Sciences at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, N.C.


1. Heil J. Psychology of sport injury. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 1993.
2. Taylor J, Taylor S. Psychological approaches to sport injury rehabilitation. Aspen Publications, Gaithersburg, MD, 1997.
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4. Hardy CJ, Richman JM, Rosenfeld LB. The role of social support in the life stress/injury relationship. Sport Psychology. 1991; 5(2):128-139.
5. Clement D, Shannon VR. Injured athletes’ perceptions about social support. J Sport Rehab. 2011; 20(4):457-470.
6. Robbins J, Rosenfeld L. Athletes perceptions of social support provided by their head coach, assistant coach and athletic trainer pre-injury and during rehabilitation. J Sport Behavior. 2001; 24, 277-297.
7. Russell H, Tracey J. What do injured athletes want from their health care professionals? International J Athletic Therapy Training. 2011; 16(5):18-21.
8. Podlog L, Eklund RC. A longitudinal investigation of competitive athletes’ return to sport following serious injury. J Applied Sport Psychology. 2006; 18(1):44-68.
9. Dale GA, Robbins JE. It’s a Mental Thing! 5 Keys to Improving Performance & Enjoying Sport. BW&A Books Inc., Durham, NC, 2010.
10. Mann BJ, Grana WA, Indelicato PA, O’Neill DF, George SZ. A survey of sports medicine physicians regarding psychological issues in patient-athletes. Am J Sports Med. 2007; 35(12):2140-2147.

   For further reading, see “Key Insights On Returning Athletes To Sport After Injury” in the April 2010 issue of Podiatry Today.

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