Review: Professional Coaches Perspectives on the Return to Sport Following Serious Injury

Podlog, L., & Eklund, R. C. (2007). Professional coaches’ perspectives on the return to sport following serious injury. Journal of applied sport psychology, 19(2), 207-225.


By Rachel Webb

When it comes to athletes returning to their sport post-injury there can be numerous factors that inhibit the athlete from a successful transition. The purpose of this study was to “examine professional coaches’ perspectives of the return-to-sport transition, their role in decisions to return athletes to training and competition, and their role is assisting athletes through this adjustment period”(Podleg & Elund, 2007). Factors such as fear of re-injury, ability to preform up to pre-injury levels, heightened performance anxiety, and pressure to meet returning deadlines are all aspects that can be taken into consideration for a seriously injured athlete and are highlighted throughout this research.

The first aspect of the investigation of coaches’ perspective on the return of injured players looked at the decision-making process behind allowing this return. Outside of formal medical clearance, coaches revealed a heavy influence by the player’s status (bench verse starter) and the game situation. Most of the coaches in this study also consider the psychological stressors involved in returning to play as well as the physical readiness of the athlete, depending on the known characteristics of said athlete. Consistent with appraisal theories, coaches indicated a clear correlation between individual differences or psychological characteristics of athletes and how they experience the stressors of injury and returning to sport. One specific stressor that seemed to have an impact on the athletes was the feelings of social isolation from teammates and this finding was echoed through other studies including this one. Coaches’ felt that it was within their role to help athletes maintain continued social contact and involvement with the members of the team in order to prevent these feelings of alienation. Particularly during the final stages of rehabilitation it has been supported that the timing and the amount/type of feed back from social support, including coaches, is crucial in maximizing support effectiveness. Using a qualitative approach this study was able to recognize the psychological experiences, negative thoughts, and negative self–talk that can translate physically for an athlete and increase their chances of being reinjured during sport performance without the proper social support. Social support can be interpreted as a source of confidence for an injured athlete. Another reoccurring stressor revealed by the coaches’ perspective was the notion of autonomy, having personal control, over the circumstances of their injury and returning to play. A recommendation was made to avoid pressuring an athlete, but rather encourage them to maintain the locus of control so the athlete can avoid this stressor to the best of their ability.

Given the intent of this investigation was to examine professional coaches’ perspectives on the return to sport and highlight what their role was, although the list is extensive there is much work to be done of the behalf of coaching staffs. The salience of competence, autonomy, and relatedness throughout this study reveal the importance of these issues when it comes to dealing with an athlete returning from injury. Coaches also need to be cognizant, as the ones in the study were, of the psychological stressors that occur during each stage of rehabilitation, primarily the added stressors when the athlete is returning to play. Finally, coaches must recognize the potential benefits of providing social support for athletes. It is crucial to maximize the effectiveness of support by utilizing the correct type of support depending on the athlete and to consider the timing and the amount given.

DR. B Performance Psychology

DR. B Performance Psychology