Returning to Sports After Injury

When young athletes experience sports-related injuries, most are eager to return immediately after clearance from their physician. However, some athletes do not feel ready to return even after receiving medical clearance. Apprehension about going back to sports can occur after a single injury and after repeated injuries. Difficulty coping and a lack of psychological readiness are often related to the apprehension an athlete may feel about returning to full sport participation.

On top of the physical aspects of recovery, athletes can experience intense emotions after an injury occurs. Decreased confidence and increased anxiety about returning to their sport can also impact athletes recovering from injury. Worries about returning to sport can include:

  • What if I get injured again?

  • What if I’m not as good as I was before my injury?

  • What if I lose my position on the team?

While helping athletes meet their physical rehabilitation goals is a priority, it is equally important to assist with mental preparation for a successful return to competition. This mental preparation involves learning to cope with worry and improve overall confidence.

Sport psychologists help athletes with their psychological readiness to return to sport by offering support and teaching specific mental skills such as goal setting, imagery, and positive self-talk. These skills help athletes cope more effectively so they can feel confident and prepared to return to their sport.

Parents can also help with their child’s recovery from injury by:

  1. Offering support and encouragement

  2. Keeping emotional reactions neutral

  3. Helping young athletes find alternative activities during recovery

  4. Encouraging interaction with friends

  5. Monitoring good nutrition and sleep during recovery

  6. Talking through feelings and reactions with your child

Erica Force, PhD, CC-AASP, has practiced as a licensed psychologist with a focus in sport psychology since 2012. She is a registered Sport Psychologist for the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry. Upon completion of her pediatric post-doctoral fellowship at TSRHC in 2015, she joined the Psychology team. Utilizing her credentialing as a Certified Sport Psychology Consultant, she treats patients at Scottish Rite Hospital at the North Campus. Dr. Force has co-authored publications in prominent journals focused on the psychology of sport.

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