Today’s Topic: Getting Over Your Fear of an Injury
Hi everyone. I’m Diana Lattimore, and I am one of the new coaches at Complete Performance Coaching. I thought I would introduce myself briefly, and share a little bit about how I got into this profession. Then, I’m going to do a short Q&A.
To start with, athletics really started for me when I was about four years old. That was really because I was following in my big sister’s shoes. She was in gymnastics, so I started gymnastics. Then, as I went into elementary school, I started playing basketball. I did track and field, and I also did gymnastics. By the time I got to junior high, I stopped doing everything except for gymnastics. However, I was pretty much just having fun with gymnastics. I wasn’t super serious, so that took me through to high school.
Then, it all changed for me in high school. I really focused and much more intense, and my entire identity started becoming gymnastics. I wanted to go to college and do gymnastics, and I was fortunate enough to go to a D1 university, and compete in gymnastics. I honestly went to college to do gymnastics, and I just happened to get a degree along the way.
It was really traumatic for me, when in December of my Freshmen year of college, I had an injury. It was a pretty serious injury where I ended up having surgery. Then, unfortunately, after surgery, I was left immobile for 13 months. My arm literally wouldn’t move past a certain position.
Thankfully after three more surgeries, and a lot of physical therapy, I was able to move my arm again, and go back to gymnastics. But that injury is really the reason why I went into Sports Psychology. That 13 months, physically, was really, really hard. It was grueling. The pain was insane, but I realized after that, that it was the easy part.
Getting through the physical recovery was the easy part. Mentally, it almost defeated me. That recovery, just the mental recovery, took another year. I’m not sure I ever really fully recovered mentally. Anyway, my undergraduate degree was in Psychology. Obviously I kind of had an intrigue with psychology. But, I still wasn’t sure when I got out of school, what I wanted to do.
Enter Sports Psychology
I started working full time, and I was coaching gymnastics part-time. Really, my boss and former coach was the one who said, “Hey listen, I think you should do Sports Psychology, because you do it every single day in practice. I thought about it, and ended up going back to school. I have a masters degree in Exercise and Sports Science, with a specialization in Sports Psychology. I have a PhD in Actualized Science, and I also am a Certified Mental Performance Coach.
I have been working with athletes for about 10 years now, and I really work with athletes from a lot of different sports, and a lot of different levels. Youth, high school, college, and elite level athletes. I’m happy to share more about that if you’d like to know. While I’ve helped athletes with a lot of different aspects of the mental game, I really specialize on helping athletes with the psychological recovery of injury, and also helping athletes either build, or rebuild confidence.
Everything from gymnasts being scared to go backwards, to baseball players feeling like they’re in a hitting slump, and even athletes in any sport just kind of feeling like they don’t believe in themselves, or they can’t do something. I really help them kind of gain that confidence to be able to go back out there.
That’s a bit about me, and kind of what I do, where it came from. Now I’m going to do a quick Q&A session. I thought today I would focus on some questions that I get so often. Probably any of you athletes or parents who have athletes at home, know that fear is such a big part of sport. Today I really want to focus on fear from an injured athletes perspective.
When athletes get injured, one of the biggest fears that they have is fear of reinjury. Kind of a close second to that, is the fear of being as good as they were prior to the injury. I just want to address some questions that I get along those lines. I think the biggest thing is, how do I make sure that I come back as good, as strong, as fast?
Q: “Will I be as good as I was before?”
Obviously a big part of that is going to be physical therapy, and paying attention to what your doctor says, and really listen to your doctor. I think following what your doctor says is really important, and a lot of times athletes try to rush back into playing again. That honestly, doesn’t help you out any, and it makes the recovery so much harder. That’s the first part of it.
But then, understanding that while there are some injuries that are career ending, most injuries are not. Most of the time you can come back from an injury, and be just as strong, or as fast, or as graceful as you were before the injury occurred. Physically, that’s what rehab, physical therapy is all about. Honestly what stops athletes from being as good, is usually their mind, and really letting your mind kind of get in your way. You might play a little bit safer, you might be a little bit more timid when you play, you might start playing not to lose, versus playing to win. Small difference, but it makes a huge impact on the actual outcome.
When you have this fear of reinjury, you tend to hesitate a little bit more, and you tend to hold back. That’s not your body slowing you down, it’s your mind slowing you down. Part of it is because of the fear of reinjury. They really, those two things really play together. How do you overcome that?
You know, I think there’s a few things. One is, you know, knowing that working through fear is a process. I know athletes, and parents of athletes, you want to get back into it so fast. But understanding that healing physically is a process, healing psychologically is a process too.
Admit Your Fears
Say them out loud, write them down, give your fears a voice. When you do that, you actually take away the power from your fears. It’s when we hide from our fears, or run away from our fears, that they really have power over us.
Until you really confront them, that’s what’s going to happen. One tool that I really like to use with athletes is mental imagery or visualization. There’s several different types of mental imagery you can do. Healing imagery, or pain imagery, or performance imagery. I use all of those with my athletes.
One of the things with injured athletes is, a lot of times you’ll see yourself, if you got hurt doing your sport, you will see yourself when you close your eyes, and visualize a skill, or a movement, or play. You’ll see yourself getting hurt again, and again. I can promise you that if that’s what you’re visualizing, you are not psychologically ready to go back to playing. The thing is, if you go back when you’re seeing yourself get hurt over and over again, then you’re focusing on the wrong things. Then you actually increase your risk for getting re -injured.
Face Your Fears with Mental Imagery
The challenge really is to face the fear, so that you allow your mind to be free to focus on the things that you know to do to actually execute a skill or a movement correctly, and with success.
When you think about mental imagery, there’s a few things that really make it effective. One thing is to be consistent with it. With injured athletes, I actually tell them to do mental imagery every day. That’s one of the things that really helps keep their mind sharp when they’re out, and just doing physical therapy, trying to get back into sport.
Then another thing is, you want to use as many senses as possible. You want to make it as vivid as possible. A lot of athletes tend to really focus on seeing themselves go through this skill, and that’s great, but that’s only part of it. You want to not only see yourself do it, but you want to feel what your body feels like when you’re doing a specific skill, and what it feels like when you do it successfully.
Sounds, and tastes, and all of those things. The more you can add into a visualization, the more successful and effective it will be.
Control Your Images
Another thing is, that you want to learn how to control your images. With an injury, you want to be able to see yourself doing that skill successfully, and no longer see yourself doing it, and getting hurt. Including a lot of senses, and being really vivid, and being able to control your images, that really takes practice, and that’s certainly something that I can help you with along the way. Those are some of the things that are really important when people ask me, “How do I overcome my fear of reinjury, or this fear that I have that I’m not going to be as good?”
Just to recap, you want to first, understand that it’s a process. But then you really want to give your fears a voice. Admit them, say them out loud, and then I think one of the best tools that we have is mental imagery or visualization. Like I said, there’s various types of visualization, and then there’s these key things.
All right, so I’m going to wrap up for today. Again, my name is Diana and I’m one of the new coaches. Please, if you have any questions about injury, or confidence, or anything, feel free to leave a comment, or you can also email me at Diana@CompletePerformanceCoaching.com. I will be happy to try to answer those. I look forward to seeing you guys more in the future. All right, happy Friday, have a great weekend. Thanks, bye.