Injury comes with the territory of being an athlete. No matter what age and what level, injuries of varying severity are likely to occur. Professional athletes are no exception. They train day in and day out with considerable pressure to perform. How well they perform can dictate how well they are paid, and one of the greatest roadblocks to performing at their best includes injury. In fact, some contracts with professional athletes include sections requiring athletes to maintain good health and well-being
This September, Rafael Nadal, Spanish tennis player, sustained an abdominal muscle injury forcing him to pull out of the Thailand Open and rest for at least two weeks. Fortunately, Nadal recovered from his pulled muscle enough to play in the Shanghai Masters and made it to the final. Demonstrating how injury riddles professional sports, Nadal beat out his opponent Feliciano Lopez who retired from the match because he was suffering from an ankle injury. Nadal was relieved to be playing again saying, “I’m just happy to be in the final –my first after the injury comeback.”
The recovery process for injured athletes includes an important piece that Nadal mentioned, the comeback. Injured athletes who hope to return to their sport can have a challenging road ahead. The injury can sometimes cause increased performance anxiety, fear of re-injury, and decreased confidence. In a study about elite athletes returning to their sport after injury, Podlog and Eklund (2009) followed participants for 8 months after injury. They found that athletes believed they would be successful in their comeback if they felt capable, independent, and connected and supported with those around them.
In professional sports, injury is sometimes portrayed as something to be ashamed of. However, sometimes the greatest challenge in an athlete’s career is “the comeback”. There is value to the experience, hopefully one each athlete at any level can recognize. Portland State football player, Jimmy Brown, speaks to that value, “Having an injury like that is a real learning experience. It’s a heart breaker, but I discovered a determination I didn’t know I had.”