Athletes are good at playing through pain—it comes with the territory. But an injury can jeopardize a career and, more importantly, it can threaten an individual’s well-being. Dr. John Murray, a former tennis pro who works as a clinical and sports performance psychologist, specializes in helping athletes deal with performance-related issues.
STACK: What do athletes fear most about re-injuries?
Dr. John Murray: You’re talking about a traumatic experience. I think what athletes really fear is not so much the pain or the difficult rehab as much as losing playing time. [They also areafraid of] being ostracized from the team and losing what they value most, which is competitiveness and the ability to contribute and be a valuable member of the team.
STACK: How can it affect performance after an athlete returns to action?
JM: Re-injury can cause you to be hesitant. If you’re focused on trying to be careful, then you’re not as relaxed as you can be. That extra carefulness leads to lack of focus and more tension, which may lead to more injury.
STACK: How can athletes overcome that fear?
JM: Talking to somebody who’s had a more severe injury and was able to come back is helpful. Have trust in the training staff. If the staff is saying the injury is recovered or repaired, you need to trust that. Also, expect the pain. Maybe push it beyond what you would normally do in practice, so you can experience a little bit of the pain that may still be there.
STACK: How can you help an injured teammate cope?
JM: Try to make [him] feel part of the team even though he’s no longer on the field. Also, don’t be quick to make judgments. Listen and make him feel heard.