Beyond the game: The hidden toll of sports injuries on athletes

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By Oisín Brennan

For all professional and high level athletes, there comes a day when a serious injury prevents an individual’s ability to partake in sporting activities for a prolonged period of time.

As a whole, sport can take any participant from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in an instant. This is certainly true when injuries come to the fore at any given time in an athlete’s career.

For many, injury ignites the fear of an absence from the hobby that you love the most. This absence can lead to a time of reflection and despair. The manner in which an individual can recover from an injury is a telling tale in their sporting career.

Unfortunately for many, injury is the major reason for unfilled potential in a sporting career. The aftermath effect leaves a mountain too high to climb in order to reach fitness levels achieved pre-injury.

Not only does serious injury leave an individual out of action, it is also leaving many athletes out of pocket. With the cost of surgery, physio trips and doctor appointments constantly rising, sufficient recovery may not always be an option.

Shane O’Donnell is an All-Ireland winning Clare senior hurler. In 2021, the key Clare talisman experienced a concussion injury which would leave him out of action for a significant period of time.

As a result of this serious injury, O’Donnell paid an expected total of €5,000 on direct medical costs in the aftermath of the incident that occurred during a Clare senior hurling training session.

In a recent proposal to the Gaelic Player’s Association, O’Donnell asked for the GPA to call on the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association for improved injury coverage in relation to payments for players who are out of work as a result of GAA related incidents.

Shane was left in an uncertain predicament following the incident. Having just begun a new job at the time, unpaid leave was not on the cards for the 28 year old.

Not only does an injury such as concussion have an impact on a person’s physical health, it also heavily affects an individual’s mental wellbeing.

Effects of injury on an athletes mental health

For an athlete to perform at their optimal level, they have to be sound both physically and emotionally. This can also be applied to when an athlete is recovering from a short or long term injury.

An injury that takes an athlete out of play for a long period can be traumatising for someone who has structured their life around sports.

As a result, this can then lead to periods of depression, anxiety and loneliness for the athlete in question. Their main aim or target of full recovery may seem out of their reach or far too distant at times.

How can psychological factors affect recovery from a sports injury?

Full recovery from an injury can be assumed as being able to return to sport at the athlete’s previous level of play without a reoccurrence of the injury.

Various studies have found that injured athletes that experience high levels of stress, anxiety or uncertainty are less likely to ever fully overcome the specific injury that they are dealing with.

On the flip side, some psychological factors have been associated with improved outcomes. Having a high athletic identity can motivate an athlete to commit fully to their rehabilitation and getting back to sports as soon as they are able.

How can the feeling of injury anxiety be normalised?

For many athletes, the majority are not know for showing weaknesses both on and off the field of play. If they are sad or upset, many try to fight through their feelings or push them aside.

Perhaps in the future, sports associations worldwide can take a strong stance on injuries received on the field of play. Through communication, a united approach can be taken towards injury and dealing with the consequences associated.

At times in top level sport, the main priority is full physical recovery. However, the mental and psychological recovery also must be taken into account when working with an athlete and most importantly, a human being.

Conclusion

High performance in sport can be bolstered through being in peak physical condition and most importantly, being in the right frame of mind.

Athletes and sport participants should be entitled to the right to a full psychological recovery before anything else is achieved.

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