Bouncing Back from the Psychological Effects of a Serious Injury

Bouncing Back From A Serious Injury

If you’re a serious soccer player and your whole life revolves around when you can next get out on the pitch to kick a ball about, the worst thing imaginable would be a long term injury, right? Apart from the obvious pain and suffering that you would endure with the physical injury itself and the rehabilitation process, one of the most testing things for an athlete to overcome are the mental effects of this injury.

Emotional Devastation

Imagine (it won’t be hard) that you are a soccer fanatic. You eat, breath, and sleep soccer, and it’s been a major part of your life since before you can remember. When you were in school your soccer skills set you apart from the crowd and gave you some sort of status and sense of achievement. You played your hardest week in, week out, and began to move up through the levels. Maybe you won a college scholarship and you had dreams of going pro in the future. Soccer makes you feel good, confident, happy, and driven, and it’s all you want to do.

Then one day you’re involved in a crunch tackle during the cup semi final and you end up with a broken leg. Worst thing imaginable! All of a sudden your world has been flipped upside down and you are barely even able to hobble around on crutches, never mind play in the cup final next month. The emotional effect that this can have on a player is incredible, and if it is not dealt with properly it can have lasting effects on performance levels, long after the player has recovered physically.

Short Term Coping Mechanisms

The initial reaction to such an injury can be extremely difficult to cope with as the feelings of frustration, disappointment, and sadness can be overwhelming. An injury such as this to a person who sets their whole life up around the sport can trigger off symptoms similar to the aftereffects of a traumatic incident such as a car crash. At first the person may try to get along with things seemingly unaffected, by brushing the real feelings away and focusing on the physical aspect of getting better, or trying to figure out if it could have been avoided or putting the blame onto someone for a wreck less challenge they . Some people become angry and upset at the thought of missing out on important games and being a part of the team. They may also experience uncertainty about the future which can lead to anxiety and stress. The best way to deal with this jumble of emotions is by allowing yourself to fully accept the seriousness of the injury and to ‘grieve’ appropriately.

Longer Term Effects of the Injury

Most players who suffer an injury as serious as a leg break usually go through two stages of recovery. The first stage ends when they have managed to beat the worst of the physical symptoms and have been through the range of emotions from angry, disappointed and sad, to hopeful and determined. How a player deals with the longer term psychological effects of the injury are what can really make the difference between a full recovery, and never regaining the same standard as before.

The most important aspect of recovery is self confidence, and there are many factors determining this. A player who has been watching their team from the sidelines for months on end, whilst someone plays in their position and does very well, is naturally going to feel unsure about their ability to regain their place in the starting team. There will be a long and very frustrating period of physical recovery time where players train on their own, do not play contact games, and barely even kick a ball, and once this is over, it can feel like a lifetime since they played. When it comes time to step back into full training again, trying to compete for a place in the team, self doubt can arise as they feel out of touch and off the pace. This feeling can reduce confidence, and lower confidence means poorer performance, which is a vicious cycle. Another thing that can put a barrier between a player reaching their peak performance once again is the fear of a repeat injury. This can result in a lackluster performance where they are reluctant to ‘get stuck in’ to tackles.

Understanding the stages of mental recovery and the potential psychological pitfalls will improve your chances of making a full recovery should you end up with a bad injury during your soccer career.

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