Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury
Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury

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1 How does sport injury make people feel?

If you have ever experienced a sport injury, you will have first-hand experience of how having an injury can make people feel. Being involved in sport can become a significant part of people’s lives. In fact, some people have a very strong athletic identity, where their personal identity is strongly attached to being a sportsperson (Brewer et al., 1993). When an injury occurs, and sports participation is consequently either restricted or stopped, that identity can be lost which can lead to several psychological reactions.

England footballer Danny Rose described feeling very angry and experiencing depression after a knee injury that occurred in 2017 which took him away from playing for eight months.

I was getting very angry, very easily. I didn’t want to go into football, I didn’t want to do my rehab, I was snapping when I got home; friends were asking me to do things and I wouldn’t want to go out, and I would come home and go straight to bed.

(Danny Rose in Kelner, 2018)
A photograph of a male footballer on the pitch wearing a white strip.
Figure 1 Danny Rose (footballer)

Activity 1 What are common psychological reactions to injury?

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the video below in which 2016 Olympic hockey gold medallist Helen Richardson-Walsh discusses the psychological impact of the various injuries she has experienced during her career. As you watch the video, answer these questions:

  1. What are some of the psychological responses Helen has experienced in response to sport injury?
  2. What other negative psychological responses might a sport injury elicit?
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  1. Helen describes various psychological responses to sport injury. These include feelings of isolation, fear, anxiety and hopelessness. She also discusses feeling a loss of identity when not being able to play hockey, which links to the concept of athletic identity discussed at the beginning of this section. As a full-time hockey player, Helen might be expected to have a strong athletic identity and to see a large part of her identity as a hockey player.
  2. Common negative psychological responses to injury include:
    • loss of identity
    • anger
    • fear
    • depression
    • reduced motivation
    • grief
    • loneliness
    • stress
    • anxiety
    • low self-esteem, and
    • confusion.

While we are focusing on negative psychological reactions here – as most athletes will view injury as a negative unwanted experience – it is important to note that some may view the onset of an injury as positive. For example, an injury could be viewed as an excuse for poor performance or a break from intensive training.

It is important to consider psychological responses to injury as they are considered to have an important influence on the rehabilitation process, and most people are likely to have some kind of psychological reaction to being injured. In the next section, you will explore the reactions of our two case studies Lois and Travis.

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