Sports psychology is not only concerned with the performance an athlete has while he is active; it is also present during the sports injury. In recent years, due to the professionalization of some sports, the number of studies about this field that have been published has increased.

This has focused attention on both the prevention of injuries and their treatment and readjustment to sport once these breaks have occurred. Specifically, stress management is very important to help keep performance up .


Psychological intervention in cases of sports injury

We found two moments in the sports injury ; one that is prior to the injury and corresponds to a prevention phase, and a second moment that would occur after the injury in which rehabilitation would enter. It is important to bear this in mind because the objectives to be addressed are different when it comes to the intervention.

In the first one, the Sports Psychologist is in charge of training the psychological resources, looking for an optimal level of muscular tension, a decrease of stress, a correct attentional control and the improvement of the coping resources in order to avoid the feared injury.

In the post-injury or rehabilitation phase, the objectives vary according to whether the injury is more or less recent ; in the immobilization phase the objective will be to give the athlete strategies for controlling anxiety and accepting reality. To this end, it is common for the sports psychologist to train communication skills and relaxation techniques, as well as to ensure a therapeutic commitment.

In the mobilization phase the objective will be to make a correct recovery, readaptation and return to competition , working on communication skills, relaxation techniques and mental imagery and anxiety control, being of vital importance the social support.

The causes

Numerous studies agree on the existence of two categories to which an injury may be due .

Extrinsic factors would be those of an environmental nature. They refer to the equipment, the environment where the activity is practiced, the duration of the training and the failures in the physical preparation. The latter are the intrinsic factors that have their nature in personal characteristics of the athlete. They include age, sex, physical constitution, previous medical history, physical condition, ability and psychological state.

As for the latter, unfortunately, it is common for it to worsen depending on the severity of the injury and the estimated time for recovery . Therefore, when the sportsperson has achieved full recovery, when faced with his normal activity again, he often finds that what seemed to be an ambitious challenge before, now causes him stress.

Injuries and Stress in Sports

If we review the literature we find that Andersen and Williams (1988) devised a model in which it was proposed that the stress response was the result of a two-way relationship between the cognitive assessments of the athlete on an external situation (environmental factors) potentially stressful, and the physiological and attentional aspects of stress (intrinsic factors), where both these cognitive assessments and the physiological and attentional responses to stress are constantly changing.

This model has also tried to explain the relationship between psychological factors and vulnerability to injury, including sporting history, but also the emotional reactions of the injured athlete. Thanks to this, it has been possible to carry out psychological intervention programs for the prevention of injuries or the rehabilitation and sports readaptation of the injured athlete.

The Role of Anxiety in Sports Performance

In this interaction between psychology-lesion-psychology some of the relevant variables in the competitive field are the anxiety and the mood of the athlete. Numerous studies have been carried out in almost all sports modalities about pre-competitive anxiety and the state of mind in which athletes find themselves before competing. It has been shown that this does not affect all athletes equally .

Factors Influencing Stress

There are a number of conditions in which stress and fear of failure are aggravated. The age of the athletes influences the appearance of the stress, being more prone to suffer stress the youngest (from 10 to 19 years) and the oldest (from 40 years).

It should also be taken into account that this condition of stress would not affect equally those who practice physical activity for leisure and those who engage in competition .

Psychological interventions after an injury improve the athlete’s well-being during rehabilitation. The control of their emotional responses in this unfavourable situation will allow a better and faster recovery whose main objective is the effective sport readaptation.

Podlog et al. (2011) found that the most frequent variables acting against the athlete are : anxiety about a relapse, fear of not returning to previous performance, feelings of isolation, lack of identification with their sports practice, insufficient social support from others or from the sports environment and excessive pressure that causes negative feelings such as fear, anger, sadness.

So in order to work on the psychological preparation behind an injury it is important to assess:

  • Situations outside the sports environment that can cause stress to the athlete.
  • The demands that are typical of training.
  • The demands of competition.
  • Previous history of injury.
  • Public or media influence on the Athlete (if any)

Intervening on Anxiety

Psychological interventions such as relaxation, mental imagery, correct accompaniment by the technical team (coach and colleagues), determination of objectives (clear, assessable and progressive), favouring the social support of the family in a direct or indirect way , partners and friends, are fundamental for carrying out training in stress management.

Nor should we forget such important aspects as strengthening the membership of the sport he is practicing, reducing pressure and improving his self-confidence. (Palmi, 2001; Podlog et al., 2011).

The intervention may also need to focus on changing beliefs and attitudes to prevent future injuries. It is not uncommon for an athlete’s own self-perception to be altered during training, leading to distorted beliefs about their new physical condition.

Thoughts like “as soon as they touch me a little, I get injured again” leave a bad feeling in the athlete and this can have consequences in the execution of a training or a later competition.

Support and reinforcement program

As mentioned above, family support together with a good reinforcement program can contribute to improve the injured athlete’s self-esteem and to make him/her able to resume his/her sports life.

These are those moments that you don’t question when you are presented with an athletic and sporting life ahead of you. But when it happens you have to accept it and take it as a new challenge. One more training.