Dealing with an injury is hard on your mind as well as your body. How you deal with it can go a long ways as far as the effect it has on you throughout the rehabilitation process up until the time you get back to competing again. There are some strategies I used when dealing with my own injuries that I found to be effective and believe could work for others.
Prior to the basketball season of my junior year of college, I suffered a major hip injury that consisted of a torn labrum, a bone spur, and cartilage damage that required extensive surgery. The rehabilitation process was tiresome and seemed infinite at times. I saw several doctors a week to have my progress tracked and receive treatment followed by eight months of actual rehab before I could even play basketball again. I had to redshirt my entire junior season but I could still picture myself on the court with my teammates.
You should start training for your sport again once your doctor allows you to. One of the best ways to rehabilitate an injury is by doing something you enjoy. This is important psychologically as well as physically as you will not only want to compete again, but you will gradually start to feel like you can compete again. Once your mind and body start to cooperate again, you will know you’re ready to compete. At first, my rehab consisted of upper body exercises. In addition to this I watched game film and visualized what it would be like and what I would do if I was playing in those games I studied.
While watching your team play, try to picture yourself playing in the game. This process, known as visualization, does not require physical participation, but can help you stay mentally sharp when it comes to the fundamentals of your sport and even physically sharp as you enhance your muscle memory. The popularity of using visualization generally starts at the college level, but it can definitely be used by any athlete at any age if they are willing to learn how to use it. Imagine yourself as one of your teammates that plays the same position and envision what you would do similarly and what you would do differently. This mental exercise can keep your mind and body in tune to your sport so that you are more ready and able to perform when you come back from your injury. When I was finally able to physically do what I had mentally pictured being able to do, the transition will felt very natural and I believe I was able to come back better than before in some very important aspects.
Especially in team sports, it is important to remember to be supportive of your team and be as energetic as possible when you are on the sidelines watching them. As badly as I wanted to be back on the court, I tried to stay focused on being a good teammate in any way I could because I knew that I would want my teammates to do the same for me.
When dealing with an injury sometimes your mind starts to wander, dreading the rehabilitation process or envisioning worst case scenarios. I remember consciously making myself keep my thoughts in check. One thing that helped me a lot was the simple but true idea that everything happens for a reason. Rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of my injury, this mantra enabled me to turn my injury into a positive.
It can be difficult to stay mentally “into it” when you are not physically “into it”. This is a great time to mentally train for your sport, thinking about and appreciating details that you might otherwise not have taken the time to notice. A huge part of any sport is mental and it is just as important to grow mentally at your sport as it is physically. Not only can using techniques such as visualization help keep your mind involved in the game, it can help you come back stronger and faster than before.
Mentally Preparing Athletes to Return to Play Following Injury Windee M. Weiss, Ph.D., ATC
University of Northern Iowa