Athlete strategies for coping with injury

By Dr. Alan Goldberg

(Note: This is the fourth in a series on Injuries to Athletes:)

#1 BE SAD – Allow yourself to mourn and feel whatever loss you are experiencing. Being “macho”, “strong” or “brave” by burying or hiding your feelings in this situation is not only a WASTE OF ENERGY, but will interfere with you effectively coping and recovering. Feeling is an important part of the healing process. Remember that! Feeling is part of healing!

#2 DEAL WITH WHAT IS – Injured athletes have a tendency to focus on the “could ‘a beens”, “should ‘a beens” and the “way it was” IF ONLY they hadn’t gotten hurt. The fact of the matter is no amount of wishing upon a star will change the reality of your situation. Yes it sucks that you got injured. Yes, it’s thrown a monkey wrench into all your plans and dreams. Unfortunately, this is your reality right now and you have to allow yourself to deal with where you are, right NOW!

#3 SET NEW, MORE REALISTIC GOALS FOR YOURSELF – As you begin the recovery process, you may very well have to learn to measure your successes very differently than ever before, perhaps in millimeters now instead of meters the way it was before your injury. It may mean that you also have to start all over again back at “square one” to build up arm or leg strength and endurance. Keep focused on your NEW goals and leave the old ones in the PAST for now where they belong. Once you’ve come all the way back from your injury you can start entertaining your old goals.

#4 MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE, NO MATTER WHAT – As difficult as this will be, try to stay as positive as possible. Understand that “IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.” In other words, your attitude and outlook is ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! When positive, your attitude can speed up the healing process and lessen the emotional pain that you have to go through. However, when you’re negative you’ll slow the rehab process down to a screeching halt and make yourself miserable in the process. It’s all up to you. Avoid being negative because nothing good ever comes from negativity. Negativity will only bring you and everyone else around you down.

#5 TAKE AN ACTIVE PART IN YOUR HEALING – Be conscientious about your physical therapy. Follow the doctor’s advice closely. Don’t cut corners. Work as hard with your rehab as you did in your training. In addition, practice using healing imagery on a daily basis. If you’re recovering from a broken bone or separated shoulder, spend 5-10 minutes imagining that bone or shoulder beginning to heal. “See” in your mind’s eye a healthy supply of red blood cells surrounding that area and facilitating the mending process. I can’t scientifically guarantee that this will speed up your healing. However, I can promise you that this will make you feel less helpless, more in control and much more positive. These attitudinal changes in themselves will speed up your healing.

#6 CONTINUE TO “PRACTICE” AND “WORK OUT”. If your injury allows you to still continue any part of your training, do so! If not, “practice” mentally. Use mental rehearsal on a daily basis (5 -10 minutes at a time) to see, hear and feel yourself performing in your sport, executing flawlessly with perfect timing. Take this time to also mentally work on your weaknesses. You might even want to show up for some of the regular practices and mentally rehearse what the team is doing while they’re working out. Regular mental rehearsal of your skills will keep the neuromuscular connections activated so that when you are able to actually begin physical practice, you will not have lost as much.

#7 SEEK OUT THE SUPPORT OF YOUR TEAMMATES – Participate in team functions. FIGHT the urge to isolate yourself. You may feel worthless and suddenly different, but chances are good that you’re probably the ONLY one on the team that shares that opinion. The worst thing for you to do when you’re in a vulnerable state is to separate yourself from your group. Make a serious effort to reach out rather than pull in!

#8 THINK ABOUT HOW TO USE YOUR SPORTS LEARNING AND EXPERIENCE IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR LIFE – If your injury forces you into permanent retirement, you may feel that you have little to no skills or expertise that you can transfer from your sport to other endeavors. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! To excel as an athlete in your sport you have gradually developed over time some pretty powerful success skills like dedication, commitment, persistence, motivation, the ability to manage time, “reboundability” from setbacks and failures, as well as a whole host of other valuable LIFE skills. These success skills can be readily harnessed to other challenges that you pursue in your life outside of sports. Don’t think for a minute that much of what you’ve learned and mastered is irrelevant to the “real world.”

#9 IF NECESSARY, SEEK OUT A COUNSELOR- If you are really depressed for an extended period of time, have lost interest in things that use to excite you, have noticed that your sleep and eating patterns have changed and/or you are having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help! Don’t fool around here. If you’re having these kinds of symptoms this means that you have really lost perspective and you are in need of some qualified, outside support. Seeking out the help of a professional therapist or counselor is NOT a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength.

#10 BE PATIENT– If your injury is temporary, allow yourself enough time to heal properly. If you’re over anxious to get back to the court, field, course or pool and rush the healing process, then you may set yourself up for another, more serious injury which may cost you even more time. Rushing the healing process so that you can get back a week or two earlier is “penny wise, pound foolish.” That is, you might get back a few days earlier, but because you didn’t wait those extra days to heal properly, you may end up developing a chronic injury that could keep you out for extra weeks and even months. Remember, sometimes the fastest way of coming back is the slowest. GO SLOWER, ARRIVE SOONER!

Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: