Dr. Jill Tracy studies the psychological impact that can occur to an athlete from a sports related injury. Dr. Tracy states that when athletes experience injuries, all of their focus is directed to the physical side of the injury. When this occurs, many athletes ignore the psychological side of the injury, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are linked to the injury. Researchers discovered that athletes have a greater mood disturbance during the injury rehabilitation stage than the after injury recovery stage. The reason for this is due to the initial injury phase, where athletes are experience a vast array of emotions such as fear, anger, and confusion. Researchers also focused on the importance of the athlete accepting the injury as a reality so they can devote their time and energy to the recovery phase. In a study conducted by Bianco, Malo, and Orlick (1999), professional skiers who suffered severe injuries were interviewed. The skiers stressed the importance of positive thinking and believing that they would progress through the recovery stage to eventually return to the sport they loved.
In the study conducted by Dr. Jill Tracy, college level athletes who were recovering from moderate to severe injuries were examined. They were examined for three phases of the injury recovery stage: the beginning of the injury, one week post-injury, and three weeks post-injury. The main question that Tracy wanted answered was: what was the emotional response from the athlete during the injury phase and during each rehabilitation phase? The interview responses were quite profound. Many athletes described their emotions as being scared, shocked, frustrated, and depressed. They also reported a lowered self-esteem and a sense of feeling sorry for themselves. The athletes were aware of the inherent risks and the fact that injuries could occur at anytime. However, some athletes could not believe that an injury could happen to them, they had always felt a sense of invulnerability.
During the second interview, athletes stated how athletic trainers could affect their mood. If the athletic trainer says that the injury is improving, the athlete sees that as a sense of hope. Tracy also noticed during the second interview that athletes were devoting a lot of their spare time to academic work. She stated that, “participants had made a conscious decision to take their feelings of frustration and anger and express an increased positive attitude” (Tracy, 2003). The athletes who were in shock during the first interview reported that their shock had subsided and had turned into fear. Athletes did not fear the risk of reinjury, but they did however have the fear of missing practice and trying to play catch up because of the lost time. Athletes also struggled to decide whether to attend practices when they were injured. Even though there was frustration for the athletes who attended practices, they were met with social contact from teammates and that was reported as being helpful.
During interview three, athletes’ emotions were much improved by three weeks post-injury, and those with much more severe injuries were still feeling frustrated but maintained a positive outlook on rehabilitation and motivation. Athletes who were away from their teammates for three weeks felt lonely being away from the team. The athletes, at the end of their injury recovery, felt like they had learned a lot from the experience of being injured and felt like they had an enormous amount of inner strength that carried them through the injury rehabilitation phase.
Dr. Tracy also noticed that thinking about the future encouraged the athletes. When athletes thought about the future and one day being healthy again while playing the sport they loved, the athletes’ motivation increased during rehabilitation. One lesson that the majority of the athletes learned throughout the whole process was not to take anything for granted. It is clear to why this lesson would strike the athlete the most. Injuries are unexpected and can happen at any time, and most people overlook that fact. It’s not like the athletes are purposely taking their talents for granted, but it can be human nature to not worry about the fact that an injury could occur at any second. From an athlete’s perspective, it is important not to constantly think about getting injured because that could inhibit performance. If an injury does occur, it is all about taking the right steps and precautions in order to return to the sport in a safe and speedy manner.