WHAT: A volleyball player is rehabilitating an ACL injury post surgery. Doctors estimate that patient will not be able to practice or another 6 to 8 weeks. During rehabilitation it is not as easy as it may seem to just do the physical work to return to pre-injury form. The athlete will struggle mentally equally as physically throughout the whole rehabilitation process to get back to being able to compete again. Many mental issues arise during the rehabilitation process. The athlete may ask themselves questions such as will I be able to return to the way I was before the injury, is the rehabilitation process worth playing again, or why haven’t I been making progress lately? To return to full recovery, the athlete does not only need to rehabilitate physically but mentally as well.
SO WHAT: The athlete has 6 to 8 weeks of rehabilitation before she can return to practice. Keeping this time frame in mind, increasing the rehab rate is the first goal so that the athlete can return to practice as soon as possible but she must be completely ready. Psychological issues can have a significant impact of the quality of rehabilitation. Studies have shown that goal setting, positive self-talk, and healing imagery are significant predictors of the duration of recovery among athletes who have suffered serious knee injuries (Taylor, and Taylor, 1997). Weinberg’s principles for goal-setting that can be used for this athlete are short term goals, ink it don’t think it, set realistic but challenging goals and set specific goals (Gill & Williams, 2008). Positive self-talk implemented during the rehabilitation process can help motivate the athlete to stay positive and to keep working towards goals. If a person is ever doubting themselves negative thoughts may occur and self-talk can stop this and change these thoughts into positive ones (Gill & Williams, 2008). During the rehab process many obstacles will occur and negative thoughts will occur so self-talk will help stop that negative thought process and focus more on positive thoughts that will help accomplish goals. Performance imagery enables athletes to work on techniques, tactics, mental preparation, and competitive performance during the course of rehabilitation (Taylor, and Taylor, 1997). Imagining goals or specific exercises that an athlete is trying to achieve will help prepare the athlete before they attempt them.
NOW WHAT: As the athletic trainer, I will discuss with the athlete what her thoughts are about her rehabilitation and what she wants accomplished before she returns to practice. After pointing out what her insecurities about her rehab, goals need to be set to get her where she needs to be mentally and physically to return to practice. Since the rehabilitation period is short, short-term goals will be administered to provide feedback on her progress. Her goals need to be realistic but also challenging since she wants to get back to practice as soon as possible. Specific goals need to be set that tender to her rehabilitation process so it can individualize to her return to practice. All of these goals should be wrote out so they can be checked off to give her a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to tackle the next goal. If she ever doubts herself or negative thoughts occur, self-talk strategies will be implemented to stop this process. Thoughts such as “I’m never going to return to practice” or “I’m never going to play the way I used to” can be stopped and changed into thoughts such as “I’m making great progress on my rehabilitation” and “I’ll be able to start practicing soon enough with all this hard work.” Lastly, using imagery can be used to help her mentally through the rehabilitation process. Even though she may not be able to do certain exercises or movements with her injured leg, imaging that she can and the sensation of what if feels like to do that will help her be prepared once she is able to do those movements. By imaging that she can do certain movements she will be more confident do accomplish those movements than not imaging them. When she is able to return to practice, she must keep using goal setting, self-talk and imagery. She needs to set new goals once being able to practice to getting to be able to compete again. Using self-talk and imagery will help accomplish the new goals she has set.
Conclusion: An athlete going through sport injury rehabilitation is equally as much mental preparation as physical preparation. The athlete has 6 to 8 weeks of rehabilitation before she can return to practice. Her cognitive thoughts need to be brought out to help in the rehabilitation process to get her to return to full recovery. After determining her thoughts and feeling, goals will be set to aid in the rehabilitation process. Once short-termed goals are achieved, it will provide a sense of accomplishment and will motivate her to attack the next goal. Self-talk will be used to aid in accomplishing goals. Self-talk can stop negative thoughts and help get through obstacles she may be having throughout the rehabilitation process. Imagery will help prepare the athlete to visualize herself doing movements that she used to or movements that she will have to do once she returns to practice. Once able to return to practice, these tools will still be used until she can return to competition.
Taylor, J., & Taylor, S. (1997). Psychological approaches to sport injury rehabilitation. Gaithersburg, Maryland: Aspen Publisher, INC.
Gil, D.L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.). Champain, IL: Human Kinetics