The majority of competitive soccer players suffer an injury at some point in their careers. Each soccer injury is unique, presenting its own set of complications, limitations, physical and mental obstacles, rehabilitation periods, traumas and outcomes. (See 5 Stages of Injury Recovery.)
Many players' self-concepts and self-esteem are built upon the foundation of their soccer identity. When soccer players sustain injuries and are forced to take breaks from training and competition, their self-worth is placed in jeopardy, threatening an essential element of their overall personal and psychological well being. (See Fear Holds You Back In Overcoming an Injury.)
Following an injury, a variety of psychological reactions ensue. As coaches, we must know about these responses and recognize the signs that a player is negatively affected. Successful rehabilitation depends on dealing with the many psychological factors that can affect the quality and speed of a player's recovery. Although individuals vary in their reaction to injury, most soccer players to go through three stages of psychological response—injury-specific processing; emotional turmoil and sensitive behavior; and positive attitude and management.
At first, players tend to focus on the pain, the extent of the injury and any negative consequences or immediate setbacks it may have caused. They question how the injury happened and ask what they could have done differently to avoid it. Depending on the severity of the injury, the player may experience episodes of fear about the uncertainty about their soccer future, the ability to fully recover, future injuries and regaining their position in the team.
Emotional responses to a soccer injury can include denial, disbelief and self-pity coupled with mood disruptions due to increased stress, anxiety and depression.
The soccer player accepts the injury and starts to demonstrate a more optimistic and positive outlook in an attempt to move through the healing process. When players confront their injuries constructively, they create cognitive evaluations of the challenges they face and devise a plan for overcoming them. (See 3 Steps to Coming Back Better From an Injury.)
Sports medicine professionals and sport psychologists can assist athletes in coping with their reactions to soccer injuries. They do everything from professional rehabilitation and education to helping players explore other aspects of their personalities. In particular, sport psychologists assist athletes with goal setting. They help to determine injury rehabilitation goals that are ambitious but still realistic and within reach. Such goals should be intrinsically motivating for the soccer player. Most sports psychologists set intermediate and short-term goals that are process-oriented and build towards the overall goal in stages. It is extremely important that injured players seek help from sports medicine professionals to recover and return to their sport with a healthy body and mind.