Research Looks At How to Emotionally Support Injured Athletes
All coaches eventually work with an athlete through the rehabilitation of an injury. A recent article from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research explored the role of the strength and conditioning coach in providing emotional support to injured athletes. Researchers interviewed collegiate athletes who had been significantly injured during the previous two years and had successfully returned to their sports. The athletes were asked to rate the importance of several types of emotional support during their rehabilitation.
As you might expect, emotional support and motivation is critical when recovering from an injury. In particular, two types of support seem to be extremely important. First, challenging the athlete’s perception of a task was rated as particularly important. Coaches who fostered interest and motivation by challenging the athlete’s attitude about the injury were remembered most favorably. Next, showing appreciation for the athlete’s hard work during the rehab process was also very important. Athletes expected their coaches to recognize them for giving their full efforts, even if not performing at full capability.1
Female athletes were found to expect slightly higher levels of social support than male athletes, but athletes of both genders and all sports expected some social support. On a practical note, the authors suggested linking up athletes who are at different stages of recovery from a similar injury. Those at later stages of recovery can provide incredible motivation and guidance, the study concluded.2
The mental aspects of coaching are fascinating to me, if only because they seem to be more art than science. It seems that if you want to have a truly profound impact on athletes, help them achieve any goal, and truly change their lives, then your job doesn't stop in the weight room. You must be part scientist, part coach, and part therapist. And you must blend all of them seamlessly, sometimes within the span of a few seconds.
This is a tough prescription, but effective coaching is indeed tough. Some of my favorite resources on the mental and emotional aspects of coaching have been Motivational Interviewing by Miller and Rollnick, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and Brain Rules by John Medina. How do you think coaches can provide better emotional support to our athletes, especially injured athletes?
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