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How Athletes Manage the Psychological Impact of Sustaining an Injury

Football player with ball

Is football a mental sport? I think many players would not only say yes, but state that they are the most mentally prepared athletes. It is widely discussed that sports are 90% performance and 10% mental – with varying percentages tossed around. I believe that football, as other sports, is 100% mental and 100% performance in that both are equally necessary for success. Football players use mental toughness to focus, strategize, make quick decisions and perform skillfully – which is not an easy task when physical contact with the opposing team can rattle you in more ways than one! What we think, such as our love for the game or the confidence in our ability, influences performance, which in turn influences our thoughts. While natural ability, training, motivation, and support are key factors – these aspects are guided by our thoughts and ultimately need mental toughness to reach their full potential.

As a full contact sport, football players need to be prepared to expect the unexpected as the potential for injury rises with contact. Mental toughness helps players to excel, but what may be less known is that mental toughness also helps players avoid injury and successfully return to play if injured. Here are four elements of mental toughness needed to keep the synergy alive in the mental, physical and emotional aspects of football:

  1. Flexibility: Mental flexibility allows players to handle unexpected situations and to tame emotions. Flexibility allows one to adapt and to be physically prepared for change if needed. This is crucial as we cannot control everything, especially in a contact sport.
  1. Responsiveness: Mental responsiveness keeps one engaged and in control of emotions even when there are times when emotions can swing high on either end. Mental responsiveness tells our body how to physically respond in unexpected situations which is important for injury prevention.
  1. Strength: Mental strength, or toughness, helps a player withstand the physical force of a contact sport and the emotional blows that can occur in competition. Thoughts channel emotions positively and tap into physical strength even when your body does not feel strong. It’s a form of mind-over-matter.
  1. Resiliency: Mental resilience allows players to handle setbacks. If you fall down, you have to tell yourself to get back up without diminishing confidence. Resilient thoughts can rechannel emotional setbacks positively, which enhance a player’s ability to physically recover from injury quickly. You have to believe in yourself no matter what.

A player’s mindset can greatly affect the course and length of time needed to recover from an injury and surgery. Accepting the situation and revising goals is necessary to keep your head in the game, even when your body is sidelined. It is crucial that a player’s mind and body be in sync to avoid further injury, or a prolonged and frustrating recovery period. Mental toughness helps the injured player adapt to what is needed and control emotions that may overshadow physical needs. Mental toughness keeps confidence alive and fuels hard work and discipline to return a player back to the game.


Dr. Julia Kim is a Clinical Psychologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Kim is the first Clinical Psychologist to formally work within the HSS family and her focus is to develop an Integrative Care Program, designed to incorporate psychological services to a multi-disciplinary care team. She works closely with physicians and surgeons to optimize the best possible medical outcome.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.