Rebound: Training Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger from Sports Injuries by Carrie Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma is a book that all athletes can greatly benefit from, since injuries are a universal aspect of sports. Unfortunately, every serious athlete will have to deal with injuries at some point in their career. And no matter if it’s a career threatening injury, or just a minor injury, all injuries come with mental and emotional challenges. This is why it can be so helpful for athletes to read this book, which is a comprehensive guide to mental rehab that greatly complements physical rehab and helps maximize the chances of athletes bouncing back strong from injuries.
Here are the top lessons I’ve learned from this book.
First, it’s important to understand the emotional impact that injuries can have on athletes. For many athletes, their injury may feel like a major setback. Without being able to train and perform, they may lose hope in their ability to achieve their dreams, as well as question their identity and value as a person. Not only can the emotional impact of injuries greatly affect an athlete’s mental health, which is important for its own sake, but it can also greatly affect an athlete’s ability to physically recover from injuries.
So how can you successfully cope with injuries in order to maintain your mental health and bounce back stronger? It starts with understanding that it’s natural and OK to grieve and feel bad for yourself after suffering an injury. By understanding the common stages of grieving, which involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression, you can better reach the final stage of acceptance. You need to first accept and honor your real emotions before you can effectively deal with them and move forward. However, this grieving process doesn’t have to take that long. With the right kind of mental training and support, you can move along the most efficient path to recovery.
This mental training involves a toolkit of coping strategies and mental exercises to help you stay positive, build resilience, and grow stronger not only as an athlete, but also as a person.
The first aspect of this mental rehab I want to talk about is improving your attitude about injuries and setbacks. Many athletes view injuries as a total setback, with no optimism or perspective on the bigger picture. This negativity can do nothing but hurt an athlete’s confidence, motivation, and mental health. So if you want to maintain a strong mindset, you need to try your best to look at things in a more positive light. Here are some ways to do this:
- Instead of thinking you’re so unlucky for having suffered an injury, accept the fact that injuries are a normal and somewhat uncontrollable aspect of sports.
- Instead of thinking you’re the only one unfortunate enough to suffer an injury, understand that every athlete deals with injuries.
- Instead of thinking that your injury dooms your athletic dreams, understand that it’s not only possible for you to make a comeback, but it’s possible for you to comeback stronger than you were before.
- Likewise, instead of thinking there are no benefits of taking time off from training/performing, understand that there are many ways you can improve yourself while injured, not only as an athlete, but as a person.
- Lastly, instead of wishing your injury never happened, accept reality, focus on what you can control, and be motivated to recover and bounce back as strong as you can.
Now that I talked about positive attitudes towards injuries, let me share with you the other coping strategies I learned in this book.
Rehab adherence and goal setting. Obviously, just thinking positive isn’t going to magically heal your injuries itself. You need to actually receive treatment for your injuries from a doctor, physical therapist, or trainer and follow the rehab program that they assign you. However, your mindset is still a very critical aspect of your recovery, since your mindset determines how well you go through your rehab program. This is where goal setting comes in. Many athletes have little motivation to take rehab seriously because they think their athletic goals are ruined. And even if an athlete still believes in their long-term goals after suffering an injury, they may still not have the motivation to take rehab seriously because they don’t see the connection between their effort and their goals. This is why it’s important for injured athletes to create new goals during rehab. As the authors of this book suggest, injured athletes should make rehab their new “sport” and transfer over all their passion and discipline that they used to invest into their training into their rehab. By making full recovery your new ultimate goal, and setting many small sub-goals along the way, you can maintain strong motivation throughout your rehab journey.
Mindfulness. One of the biggest challenges that injured athletes face is staying focused on what they can control in the present moment. It can be easy for injured athletes to lose motivation by dwelling in the past or worrying too much about the future. This book gives you great practical advice on how to bring your awareness back to the present moment, and therefore maintain motivation and control over your recovery. Taking deep breaths, developing self-compassion, and detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions are three ways to practice mindfulness.
Cognitive behavioral therapy. Besides mindfulness, this book offers many kinds of coping strategies to help you deal with stress. First, it helps you understand stress and how it affects your recovery. Too much stress can actually hurt your body’s ability to recover from injuries. It can also increase the chances of reinjuring yourself. While stress cannot be entirely eliminated, it can be minimized to a manageable level. Here are some cognitive behavioral therapy strategies mentioned in this book:
1. Problem-focused coping strategies. These are strategies that directly help fix the cause of your stress. For example, finding a good doctor and doing rehab exercises to make progress in recovery are problem-focused coping strategies that help reduce stress at the source.
2. Emotion-focused coping strategies. These are strategies that help relieve the symptoms of stress. For example, meditating and reframing negative thoughts with positive self-talk are ways to reduce stress.
3. Avoidance coping strategies. These are strategies that involve avoiding or running away from the things (or thoughts) that stress you out. In many cases, avoidance coping strategies are counterproductive. For instance, skipping doctor appointments or using drugs/alcohol to distract yourself from worrying about rehab causes more harm than good. However, there are good forms of avoidance strategies, such as avoiding social media to prevent comparing yourself to others and the stress that it brings.
4. Support-seeking coping strategies. Coping with the stress of injuries is much easier when you have a team of support. By reaching out to others to give you emotional, motivational, informational, and tangible support, you can greatly accelerate your recovery. As an athlete, don’t think that asking for help makes you weak. It actually takes great strength and courage to seek and accept help from others.
4. Simulation training. One of the best ways to deal with stress, especially the fear of reinjuring yourself, is by using simulation training. Simulation training is a way to desensitize yourself from stressful situations and overcome your fears. It involves gradually exposing yourself to your fears, little by little. For example, if you’re scared of playing at full intensity because you think you might reinjure yourself, you can start off at playing at 50% intensity. Once you’re comfortable at this level, you can move onto 60%, and so on. For any type of injury, you can design your training in a way that gradually increases your confidence.
Besides giving you a vast toolkit of coping strategies, this book also offers many mental exercises to help you sharpen your mental skills such as motivation, confidence, concentration, visualization, and resilience. The mental exercises taught in this book include writing down your thoughts, emotions, fears, goals, and plans. Many of these mental exercises may seem silly or unnecessary at first, but you’ll be surprised at the power of writing/journaling. It can actually do a great job uncovering, organizing, working through, and guiding your thoughts and emotions in a positive direction.
Lastly, I want to talk about the great lessons this book brings up about the bigger picture of life. Unfortunately, not all injured athletes are able to make a full recovery and return to their sports. This doesn’t mean these athletes are failures. A part of recovering from injuries is understanding that there’s more to life than sports, and that any athlete can learn to live a happy and fulfilling life outside of sports. This book gives great advice on how to transition into a new career after retiring from sports. One specific way to find peace after being forced to retire from sports is through gratitude. By actively focusing on all your past blessings and the great aspects of your current life, you can greatly lift your mood. It also helps to focus on something greater than yourself, like helping the next generation of athletes by either getting into coaching, or simply giving them an example on how to handle adversity.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from this book is learning how to turn the mental skills you learn from sports into life skills that you can use to improve yourself as a person. By building strong resilience and character through sports, you set yourself up for future success in all areas of your life!
Overall, I highly recommend this book to all athletes and coaches. This book is especially useful if you’re currently dealing with an injury, but even if you’re healthy right now, reading this book can help prepare you for future setbacks.