Psychological interventions can aid recovery
Recent research has shown that psychological interventions can help athletes to recover more quickly from injuries(1), experience more positive mood states during recovery(2) and maintain confidence(3). For example, one study(1) examined the effects of imagery and relaxation on knee strength, levels of anxiety and perceptions of pain during anterior-cruciate-ligament rehabilitation. Thirty injured athletes were equally divided into three experimental groups and exposed to either no intervention; a placebo intervention, involving attention, encouragement and support; or an imagery plus relaxation intervention. Results revealed that participants subjected to the imagery and relaxation intervention reported significantly less re-injury anxiety and lower perceptions of pain. Additionally, greater knee strength was reported, which seems to support both physical and psychological benefits of this intervention strategy.
Furthermore, in my dealings with injured athletes, I have seen many added benefits of applying psychological skills training techniques. Serious athletes channel large amounts of energy into their physical training and when this is not possible because of injury, channelling these energies into something positive is essential. Otherwise, long lay-offs can become the breeding grounds for depression, anxiety and self-doubt. Mental training can provide a positive outlet that the athlete can equate with progress and moving towards his or her goals. It is often not a perfect substitute for physical training â€“ far from it in many cases â€“ but it can help to promote a sense of exerting some control over the situation and act as a new challenge. In essence, the time spent during periods of injury can be destructive if the athlete allows his/her mind to wander; alternatively, it can be seen as an opportunity to develop skills that might ultimately lead to even better performances. Which would you choose?
Case study: a young football striker
The following case study demonstrates how psychological skills training can help athletes during recovery from injury. To protect confidentiality, the athlete depicted here is really an amalgam of a number of real cases, but the example should suffice to highlight some of the potential benefits of psychological interventions.
The athlete involved in this case study was a male football striker in his early 20s who had previously represented his county at schoolboy level. At the time, the participant was competing at collegiate level and had begun working with the psychologist during the early part of the season due to problems with very high levels of cognitive anxiety (performance worries, fear of failure and of letting down his team-mates), and low levels of self-confidence (not in his general ability, but in his ability to perform well under-pressure).
The working alliance between client and psychologist became strong with weekly meetings continuing over about four months prior to injury occurrence. An imagery and self-talk intervention programme had led to the participant experiencing significant reductions in anxiety and increases in self-confidence. This was regularly monitored and assessed by subjective performance assessments (including performance profiling) and various psychological