How do you help an athlete overcome fear of re-injury? Injuries occur in every sport and can have a lasting impact on your athletes. Almost as bad as the injury itself is the anxiety that the injury may reoccur. If a coach is not there to help athletes work past this fear, they run the risk of increased drop outs.
By slowly building up teams and athletes, supporting them, and guiding them through the recovery process a coach is in a great position to teach their athletes that, with patience and perseverance, you can always get up after a big fall. Here are a few approaches to try when helping an athlete overcome fear of re-injury.
Step by Step – Gradual Return to Play
Once your athlete has received medical clearance, have them practice the basic fundamental movements of the sport. From there you can progressively increase the difficulty. Always ensure that your athlete feels safe and comfortable with the drills and tasks they are given. If they are hesitant, allow them to take a step back and practice their fundamental movements again. This will allow the athletes to progress at their own pace, which is key to re-developing self-confidence. This Return to Play Protocol is a good starting point for any return from injury.
Support is Crucial
Your athletes need words of encouragement. Tell them they’re doing a good job, and outline the improvements you see them making. They will almost always want to get back to full intensity faster than they should. Remind them that they are committed to a rehab process. The process may be slow, but you are there every step of the way.
Consult a Professional
Seek outside help from an expert. They have unique approaches to handle different situations. Professionals who specialize in sports psychology will be able to help develop a program that best suits your athlete’s needs. Since fear is a learned behavior, the process will take time and have its challenges. It is your job to do all you can to help your athlete when they need you most. An OK to return to play from a sport physio can also help reassure an athlete that they’re ready to get back in the game.
Fear of re-injury doesn’t just affect high-contact sports. How have you helped an athlete get over their fear and get back in the game?
Coach Jack M. – Sailing – Toronto – 6 Years
“This is tough one. It really depends on how the athlete is approaching it. On the one hand, you would expect them to be overly cautious and hesitant. In this case it could be your role to push the athlete to challenge themselves and get back in the game. On the other hand, they may respond to their fear by overcompensating with a lot of outward confidence. In this case it’s your role as a coach to slow them down and put on the brakes a bit to avoid re-injury.”
Coach Warren Nye – Hockey – Lucan – 25 Years
“Successful adherence to a rehabilitation program can be measured using the Sports Injury Rehabilitation Adherence Scale (SIRAS) and the Sports Injury Rehabilitation Beliefs Scale (SIRBS).
The are several predictors to adherence to rehabilitation include personal factors such as self-motivation, self-assurance, assertiveness, independence and goal perspective. The most poignant personal factor that influences the behavioral response to athletic injury is athletic identity which can be measured using the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale (AIMS). Research by Brew et al. (2010) showed that athletic identity decreased dramatically from pre- and post-anterior crucial ligament surgery and in those who struggled with their rehabilitation program. The former was suggested to be a self-protecting mechanism to curb the individuals athletic identity.
Additionally, an individual’s coping ability, social support availability, and cognitive behavioral interventions are shown to be effective in an athletes adherence to rehabilitation programs. Interventions such as guided imagery (i.e. mental rehearsal), relaxation, goal setting and biofeedback can be used to improve emotion regulation and reduce the emotional trauma that accompanies injury.”
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