Most athletes experience injuries during their careers. Minor injuries may be treated easily, but major ones can be a huge setback. Recovering from a major injury not only requires physical therapy, but also mental resilience. Dealing with lay-offs because of injury is not always easy for sportsmen. Slowdown in training also causes a great deal of frustration among athletes. Magdalena Neuner and Landon Donovan are examples of athletes, who emphasize the importance of mental training for success in sports career.
According to research, psychological intervention can hasten the recovery process for athletes. It helps increase positive energy, self-esteem and confidence. A study by Cupal and Brewer examines how relaxation and imagery affects anxiety levels, knee strength and the perception of pain during rehabilitation. The results indicate that imagery and relaxed intervention reduce re-injury anxiety and the perception of pain among participants.
The methods suggested by Cupal and Brewer in their research were used in the persent case study. The athlete considered in this case study was a striker in his early 20′s. The player had represented his country at the high school level. While competing at college, the footballer began working with a psychologist due to performance related anxiety, low self-confidence and fear of failure. Self-talk intervention and imagery helped the patient. But, he was setback by a knee injury, which kept him off the field for almost a month.
The main goal during the injury period was to maintain the developed self-confidence. A reduction in confidence is often seen as a negative impact of injury. It is important to stay confident during recovery as it is closely linked to the performance on return.
The main method used in this study was imagery. In this approach the participant is encouraged to create scenarios in his mind, without any actual environmental stimuli. Auditory, visual, kinaesthetic and mood aspects are used. The footballer displayed superior imagery ability and like using it as the primary mode of treatment. It is vital to match the individual’s needs while using this technique. The patient was encouraged to imagine himself in a positive light. The imagery comprised of scenarios where he overcome challenging and difficult situations. Imagining a positive outcome is critical to this method.
The next step was three-stage intervention. The first stage entailed making the patient discuss the injury in detail in terms of his feelings towards it and what it meant to him. Any specific concerns were noted and used during the imagery sessions. The second stage involved the patient and physiotherapist accepting conclusions about the injury and consequential recommendations.
The patient and the psychologist then decided on their course of action, aims and expected outcomes. The intervention involved the patient recalling positive instances in performance and reliving them. This was a key step to ensure the maintenance of confidence levels. The imagery session was guided by the psychologist, who helped the patient focus on the sounds, movements and feelings associated with successful situations during the game. The patient reported feeling optimistic, energized and eager to return to the game.
The third stage began when the patient was preparing to begin physical training and eventually return to competition. The concerns raised by the player during the initial sessions were focused upon and used to strengthen the mental outlook of the player. The patient was worried about losing out on speed, which was his biggest asset. This was tackled by encouraging the player to create potential scenarios (not real experiences) that featured the concern. He was encouraged to find a solution to overcome the scenario successfully.
Results of the therapy
The player was successful on his return to playing football. He did mention some initial stress while being introduced as a substitute, but this was soon overcome when he began making positive contributions. Questionnaires and interviews conducted during the recovery period showed consistency in confidence levels, which resembled those before the injury.
The imagery and intervention continued for the next six months and a significant positive shift in the footballers’ attitude was noted. The initial issue with self-confidence and cognitive anxiety was completely eliminated. The goal-scoring targets that were set before the season were achieved proving the effectiveness of the imagery.
The psychological therapy aided motivation and helped maintain healthy self-confidence levels during recovery. This is a clear example that shows that channelling energy into the right places can actually improve performance after recovery. It is important to remember that every individual is unique and the course of treatment needs to be tailored to their specific requirements.
Useful Tip: Introduce psychological training as a part of an athlete’s regular training. This will not only help him/her cope with recovery in case of accidents and injuries, but also improve performance.