Sport injury – overcoming feelings of isolation following a sports injury

Anyone who engages in a sporting activity, whether it be for pleasure or destined for a professional pathway – physical injury is an unavoidable risk. Roughly 48% of youth sport athletes have been found to have at least one injury during an athletic season, (Patel & Nelson, 2000).


Naturally, attention and resources will be poured into physical healing, but what about mental and emotional healing? For young people especially, who have less life experience and coping strategies than their adult sporting counterparts, the psychological impact of injury could seem overwhelming. Numerous factors will determine the impact the injury will have on a young person, such as their age and physical health. At Mental Health UK ,we know how important it is to focus on mental and emotional wellbeing at such a time. Research relating to injury and the impact on sports performance has shown that psychological distress can have a detrimental effect on motivation, treatment, recovery and sport performance and might fundamentally alter a potential athlete’s career pathway. It’s fundamental to address the mental health needs of an injured young person alongside their physiological recovery programme.

We want to focus on an aspect that young people we have come into contact with, have told us has a significant impact on their sense of wellbeing throughout their recovery from a physical injury – loneliness.

When young people are unable to partake in an activity they enjoy and spend time with teammates on a regular basis they can feel incredibly isolated. Irrespective of whether they are involved in a solo sport (such as archery) or play alongside teammates, their recovery depends upon restoring psychological and emotional wellbeing. Loneliness is one aspect that especially relies upon the proactive support from within the young person’s network. Whether you are a fellow teammate, friend, teacher, or coach – you will have the opportunity to reach out and provide practical support to help the young person cope throughout their recovery. Insights gained from Mental Health UK’s research into the Young People’s programmes delivered across the country highlighted the following practical ways you can support your friend, teammate or student during their recuperation and hopefully avoid the intense feeling of being isolated and lonely.

If you’re a teammate, there are some ways you can support your friend experiencing an injury: 

  • Check in on the person regularly, and ask them twice if they are okay, inviting them to share anything that might be on their mind
  • Offer advice if you have experienced injuries relating to sport yourself
  • Offer to hang-out with them socially (outside of practice time) engaging in other activities they enjoy i.e., cinema, gaming room etc.
  • Encourage them to undertake other physical exercise that won’t exacerbate their injury and will get them back into undertaking physical activity within a sociable sporting environment during their recovery such as lower impact sport i.e., snooker, swimming etc (dependent on type of injury and recovery programme)
  • Encourage them, if they are able to, to come along to practice sessions to ensure they don’t feel left out of the social supportive aspect

If you’re a coach or trainer:

  • Check-in on the person who is experiencing the injury on a regular basis
  • Offer advice if you have experienced injuries relating to sport yourself
  • Provide a timetable and action plan for when they can return with clear and realistic goals
  • Encourage them, if they are able to, to come along to practice sessions to observe, get more social interaction and be included in any training tips and team strategies
  • If they have sign off from a medical professional and are able to adapt physical exercises to help them recover and get back into regular physical activity

For any young person experiencing a sports injury there are a few things that you can do look after your mental health:

  • Try and keep in regular contact with your teammates
  • If you can attend practices, it might be good to go, even if it’s watching. You will be able to absorb the training still and start to put into practice when you have fully recovered
  • Talk about how you are feeling with close ones – be it family, friends, teammates, or your coach. When we talk about how we are feeling, it makes those around us aware and helps them understand how best to support you
  • When you can start to do small exercises that help better your injury – this will not only mentally help you, but physically too
  • Do something which challenges you in a different way that could also benefit you as an athlete – for example, playing an instrument uses a different part of your brain, creating new neural pathways and increasing creative thinking, which can be leveraged in your sport if something unpredictable happens during a game
  • Do something to help you gain more experience outside of sport that could help you with other career aspirations

How you can support if you’re a family member or friend outside of the sport:

  • Encourage them how to talk about how they are feeling, ask at different times in the day and week. For example, when they would normally be practicing might be a harder time for them.
  • Invite them to socialise or to go round theirs and spend time with them
  • Encourage them to get outside and back into social environments such as cinema, walk in the park etc to break the monotony from not being diverted whilst participating in sport
  • Help them if they are fit enough/have sign of to do practice exercises to help them recover
  • If they need it, help them seek out, or encourage them to have additional mental health support

Recovering from a sports injury will take different lengths and be different for every person. It’s important to remind yourself to be kind to yourself, keep in touch with your trainer or coach and any teammates as this will help you ease back into practicing and matches when you return, as well as helping you feel less isolated.

If you’re a coaching professional and would like to know more about helping young people manage their injuries through our workshops please get in touch with our Your Resilience co-ordinator at: [email protected]

"We finished the Managing Injuries Workshop, which will help us prepare for future injuries and support our mental health. We have both had injuries in the past and it would have been helpful to know the coping strategies we learnt in the workshop to support with those experiences.”

– Anna and Millie, Manchester United U16

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