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The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport
The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport

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2.1 Return to sport

Following injury an athlete will have a period of transition on their return to sport. On returning to sport, athletes may need to cope with additional challenges such as a loss of form or reduced performance level which they may find difficult to adapt to. For example, when returning to sport following an injury a first team player may initially return to playing for the second or reserve team.

You will explore these challenges more in the next activity.

Activity 3 Returning to sport following injury

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Watch the video below in which you see athlete Emily Neff talk about returning to sport following a knee injury.

As you watch the video make a note of the concerns Emily mentions about returning to sport and then think more generally about how the issues she raises could impact on an athlete’s return to sport.

Finally, imagine you are supporting Emily. What interventions could you use to help her with her transition back into sport?

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Video 3
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Discussion

In the video Emily mentions that she had feelings of nervousness about hurting herself again when she returned to sport. This fear is a common response amongst injured athletes.

Returning to sport is influenced by both physiological and psychological factors. It is recognised that a decision about whether an individual is ready to return to sport should take a ‘biopsychosocial’ approach − that is, it should consider biological, psychological and social factors (Ardern et al., 2016).

An athlete can be physically healed and ready to return to sport but may not be psychologically ready to return. For example, a lack of confidence and fear of re-injury can have a significant impact on how successful an individual’s return to sport will be. Research has found that those who are not psychologically ready to return are more likely to be re-injured (McPherson et al., 2019). As such it is important that attention is paid to psychological recovery as well as physical recovery to ensure that transition back into sport is successful.

Psychological interventions such as imagery (Rodriguez et al., 2019) and social support (McVeigh and Pack, 2015) have been suggested to help athletes prepare for the return to sport. If you were supporting Emily, these are interventions you might encourage her to try. For example, you could encourage her to use imagery to visualise her successful return to sport and encourage her to talk to you (social support) about her concerns.

Returning to sport following injury can be challenging, but what if the extent of your injury means you will never return to sport? Next you will look at the impact of career-ending injuries.