The psychology of injury recovery

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Even though we don't like to think about the physical injuries that can occur in youth sports, the reality is your son or daughter is always "one play away" from a potentially serious injury.

Fortunately for most kids, when an injury does occur, the rehabilitation process typically is short and without complications. Kids are quite resilient and their eagerness and excitement to get back on the playing field often help them get healthy again fairly quickly. But, as a parent, it's vitally important you keep an eye out for some of the psychological issues often associated with sports injuries-just in case your child has trouble getting back into action.

When an athlete experiences an injury, the physical pain and discomfort are almost always the immediate focus. Fortunately, sports medicine physicians and athletic trainers are well equipped to diagnose and treat most sports-related injuries and, in most cases, the athlete eventually returns to full-strength in a short period of time. In some cases, an injury may be more severe and athletes may experience a stressful period in their lives as they come to accept their injuries and related courses of rehabilitation.

Common issues athletes face as they begin their rehabilitation process include uncertainty about their future in sports, developing trust with medical professionals, elevated stress levels, increased anxiety, and sometimes even clinical depression. Often, the athlete feels isolated in the rehabilitation process and is left to cope by herself, making the process that much more difficult.

This extra free time away from teammates can cause kids to think a lot about the future and it's common for them to ponder the following questions:

  • Will this be a career-ending injury?
  • If I'm able to play again, will I still have my starting position?
  • If or when I do go back to my team, can I play as hard as I once did, or will my lack of confidence prohibit me from going all out?

Try these tips for helping your child through the injury rehabilitation process:

  • Be sensitive to your child's athletic identity. Even if your child is dealing with a minor injury, being away from the team can be very traumatic. Sometimes the identity of being an athlete is temporarily lost. If your child is troubled by being away from teammates, be sure to take those concerns seriously.
  • Become an active listener. Ask your child open-ended questions and allow him to talk. Be sure to listen closely and offer comfort.
  • Offer inspiration to your child. Share success stories of athletes who have recovered from the same injury.
  • Maintain open communication. Keep in touch with the "healing team," including physicians, physical therapists, other trainers, etc.
  • If something seems odd, investigate the issue further. If you feel your child may be depressed, seek professional assistance.
  • Keep your child involved in as many of her customary life patterns as possible. An injured child can continue to attend practices, watch game videos, etc.
  • Help your child set realistic rehabilitation goals. Write them down so he can refer to them often.

Being attentive and showing you care will really help your child, but don't hesitate to seek professional advice if you feel your child is really struggling.

More resources

Dr. Chris Stankovich offers individual athletic counseling and team/league seminars. Call (614) 561-4482, or visit for more details.