Psychological techniques for sports injuries
Injuries are an experience that, sooner or later, all athletes go through.
However, these physical conditions can sometimes become a big problem if they occur repeatedly or if they affect other aspects of our game. This is why psychological counselling is often sought when it comes to overcoming injuries , but in what way can our mental resources intervene in our physical integrity?
The Impact of Injuries on the Athlete’s Mind
On the one hand, there are aspects of our personality that may imply a certain predisposition to suffer sports injuries, that is to say, there are individual differences between each sportsperson that make them “more or less psychologically vulnerable to injury”.
To give an example, a person with a responsible coping style (one that focuses on the aspects of his life that are under his control, such as his skill or training) will tend to suffer injuries less often than another person with a victimizing coping style (i.e. one that usually focuses on external elements such as the state of the grass, the harshness of the opponent, etc.).
The importance of stress
On the other hand, the psychological phenomenon that has been most associated with the likelihood of injury in an athlete is stress.
Stress is an adaptive response designed to overcome moments of maximum environmental stress. It is a psychological resource that finds its usefulness in providing us with an excess of energy that was used to flee or face a threat, and given its great utility has been transmitted to us generation after generation. However, sometimes our organism gives this response to non-life-threatening situations, such as an exam, a job interview or an important game.
Thus, stress has some useful consequences against rival tribes or saber-toothed tigers, but not as adaptive in a football match.
On the one hand, our attention processes narrow , which allows us to focus absolutely on the threatening and priority stimulus, but prevents us from generating that broad attention that most sports require.
On the other hand, our muscle tone can be affected , leaving our physique in non-optimal conditions to carry out the corresponding action and, therefore, more vulnerable to suffering an injury. Thus, adequate stress management is a priority in sport if we want to prevent injuries.
Managing psychologically the effects of the injury
Any sport has a competitive component and therefore all sports are a pressure (even more so if we talk about high performance sport). So the secret is not in reducing the pressure or fighting it, but in learning how to manage it.
Among the techniques aimed at stress management, we could highlight two:
1. Cognitive restructuring
Oriented to transforming irrational beliefs into others more adaptive to the context . For example, the belief “we are a bad team” can imply an added stress, being this logically refutable (“we have had bad results, but we work to improve”). Beliefs establish our world and determine our behaviours, so it is a basic pillar to work on in sports psychology and injury prevention.
2. Relaxation techniques
Once we detect the optimal level of activation of our sportsman, that is, the level of physiological activation at which he tends to perform best, we must train him in relaxation techniques aimed at reducing this activation when it exceeds that level. Controlled breathing, muscular relaxation and other similar resources can be a good choice when it comes to combating this physiological anxiety.
With regard to the rehabilitation period , the most noteworthy psychological variables are at the emotional level.
Motivation is a key factor in relation to adherence to treatment, and in order to maintain their highest levels, short-term objectives are usually established, the fulfilment of which is expected to generate a perception of self-efficacy in the athlete which in turn will encourage his/her motivation for the exercises to be performed, both on a physical and psychological level. On the other hand, emotional intelligence training can also be a good solution.
On the other hand, all these techniques can be extrapolated to many other contexts of the sporting and personal life of each player, so this fact can serve to focus the period of inactivity as one more learning process, and since we will all be injured sooner or later, we can turn this obstacle into an opportunity if we manage it properly.