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

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3 Self-talk and sport injury rehabilitation

Self-talk, as its name suggests, refers to the things people say to themselves. Self-talk can be internal (i.e. internal thoughts) or external (i.e. vocal). The things we say to ourselves are thought to be influential on our attitude, behaviour and performance.

At a basic level it is suggested that negative self-talk is more likely to lead to a negative attitude or outcome and positive self-talk is more likely to lead to a positive attitude or outcome. However, it may actually be more appropriate to refer to ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ self-talk rather than ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ self-talk as it appears some individuals may find negative self-talk motivational (Walker and Hudson, 2013).

Figure 4 Getting back into fitness

When an injury occurs, it can cause negative or dysfunctional self-talk. So the deliberate use of positive self-talk – and the ability to stop negative or dysfunctional self-talk – are considered valuable in helping to develop a more positive attitude towards sport injury rehabilitation. Those who are injured should therefore be encouraged to use positive self-talk.

Here are a few examples of how you can use positive self-talk during injury rehabilitation:

  • Whenever an individual has a negative thought (for example, ‘I’m never going to get back to fitness’) encourage them to say the word ‘stop!’ firmly to themselves and immediately replace that thought with a positive one (for example, ‘I will get back to fitness’).
  • Encourage injured athletes or participants to repeat a positive phrase or statement to themselves when they are undertaking difficult or painful rehabilitation exercises (for example, ‘I can do this!’). This same positive phrase could perhaps be written down and placed in a prominent place.
  • You could ‘ban’ the individual from making negatively framed comments about their injury to other people (for example, phrases like ‘My rehabilitation is going really badly!’).
  • Encourage the injured person to make a list of all the negative thoughts they have been having and write a counteracting positive statement for each.