Psychology of Injury - The Coaches guide

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

This article aims to highlight crucial skills that coaches can be aware of regarding the psychology of players whilst returning from injury. Injuries are a fact of life for a sports person. It is highly unlikely for a player of any sport to complete a career without sustaining some form of injury.

Current research highlights that many coaches and management appear to have a physiological process in place to cope with the injury situation within a team environment. This is normally in the form of a physio department or strength and conditioning specialists. An area which appears to be slightly less favoured by coaches, managers, and directors at present, is the sport psychology aspect of injuries.

This article will highlight the potential problems which occur when injury and return from injury is not dealt with psychologically. The secondary aim of the article is to provide coaches with information on how to recognise any potential problems with players and how to manage them accordingly with support and welfare techniques.

Current research shows that there is a direct link between stress within sport and athletic injuries. Stressful athletic situations are contributors to injury, depending on the athlete and how threatened they perceive the situation to be. The stressful athletic situations can be out of the coaches and players hands at times, such as a final of a competition or “away day” changing rooms. The important areas for the coach to think about is the effect which they can have on many more stressful situations. Stressful situations which the coach can control are pre-competition atmosphere, poor performance management and team selection to name few.

An example of this is highlighted below;

The team coach does not like to select his team until an hour before kick-off. Fringe players are constantly under stress for the entire weekly training sessions, because they do not know if they will be playing until last minute every week. This could have a negative effect on the injuries of players whilst training. If the coach decided to be open and honest with the players and names the team 2 days prior to the competition, then the apprehension and stress levels of the group could reduce which in turn hopefully would reduce the chances of injury occurring.




The use of scales as a tool to measure fatigue within sport has become more and more common. These are normally in the form of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), recovery stress scales or hassle and uplift scales. The RPE scale is a tool which management and coaches can use to assess the fatigue of the players or athletes. The scale can be used in various ways, but two of the common ways to use it are to evaluate the intensity of a particular training session or secondly to assess the fatigue of the individual athletes/players on a daily basis. This is normally completed in the morning, prior to training.

The scales, if used correctly can indicate to coaches the level of fatigue the team as a whole are experiencing. This will enable the coaching sessions to be tailored and manipulated to suit the players and to prevent the chances of injury. Stress and stress responses of players can fluctuate and change on a daily basis. The RPE is an assessment which can be completed very quickly and will indicate the potential stress levels of the players. A recent study was carried out using 22 professional football players. The study highlighted that there was a direct correlation between higher levels of perceived fatigue and the risk of becoming injured. Furthermore, using another scale, results showed that higher levels of hassle surrounding players were associated with an increased risk of becoming injured.

The results from the above studies show that there is a need for coaches to use scales to assess the levels of fatigue and stress which their players are experiencing. The use of the scales could potentially reduce the injuries which are caused by unnecessary training sessions which are very intense at the wrong times of the week or season. Using this application in your future coaching practice could potentially save you that crucial injury at the crucial point in the season.


Emotional Responses to Stress

Digging deeper into the emotional responses to stress. The relationship between negative emotions from injury and heightened risk of re-occurrence, is an area worth highlighting. Increased emotional reactivity is related too decreased activity in parts of the brain were attention is processed.

This decrease in attentional capacity might increase the risk of injury as the brain is too busy thinking about negative stressful thoughts as oppose to what the body is trying to do whilst training.

Imagine a computer with hundreds of infected files loaded on it. The computer is not capable of operating effectively as it is dealing with too much information at once, this causes the computer to crash. This is like the brain dealing with negative thoughts which increases the likelihood of injury.


Social Support for Players

Social support to the players can be provided by numerous of people surrounding the club.

Emotional support can be given in the forms of:

. Esteem – Boosting the athlete’s confidence, Sense of competence or self-esteem

. Listening – Actively listening whilst refraining from advice or judgement

. Emotional support – Providing impartial assistance during difficult times

. Emotional challenge – Challenging the athlete to do their upmost to overcome obstacles to goal achievement

. Share social reality – Verifying an athlete’s perception of the situation, providing a sense of normalisation

The question can be asked about who provides social support to the athletes. The answer is family and friends who are well suited for emotional and listening support. Team mates and coaches are well suited for technical appreciation and technical challenges. Sports medicine team members can work with the athletes on a daily basis to provide emotional and motivational support.

Ways in which this can be implemented is dependent on the stage of the rehabilitation.

Injury support groups, one on one consultations, and peer modelling (involvement with an athlete who has experienced similar problem ie. Ben Atiga pictured below) are few ways in which this can be implemented. The coaching staff can improve their skills if they have awareness of these social support interventions.

Returning from Injury

The returning process from injury involves many feelings for the player. Using the chart below, as a coach you can highlight the areas which you can influence the most.

The most influence as a coach lies within the decision-making process. The coach can positively or negatively influence a player’s pace at which they return back to competing. If the coach places too much pressure on the player, then the player may still be injured or have a higher chance of re-injury.


I'm a little bit nervous actually. I've been out a year and I don't think the nerves are about other people. I think my nerves are more about making sure the knee doesn't blow up now that I've gotten this far".


I have a fear of re-injury mainly because I had a few recurrences and I hurt it a few times. So, when I'm training now, I'm always thinking about it and if it feels uncomfortable, I think maybe something is going to happen".


Psychological factors surrounding return to sport post