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Should certain athletes be considered more at-risk for injury?

Working with a sports psychologist can help prepare athletes mentally and physically

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While most fans agree that we have hit the ‘true’ off-season, where hockey twitter gravitates to the even the tiniest morsels of news, this is a perfect time for athletes to rehabilitate. Post-season, we often hear of the many injuries a team faced during the playoffs. Typically, it’s a matter of a few bumps and bruises, but every now and then an athlete identifies with a relatively serious injury that requires medical attention and something that could have hampered his production towards the end of the year.

Following this year’s second-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens announced that youngster Jacob de la Rose underwent wrist surgery on May 20, just eight days after the Habs were eliminated. De la Rose, 20 years old, played his first game with the Canadiens on February 3 of this year against Buffalo. He then stayed with the club straight through until the end of their playoff run. In 33 games during the regular season, de la Rose accumulated four goals and two assists. He was pointless in all 12 playoff games. Though some would argue that his numbers are less than impressive, he had a solid year with the Habs and proved that he was ready to transition to the big club.

Jacob de la Rose GP G A Pts PIM PP SH GW S S%
Reg. Season 33 4 2 6 12 0 1 0 38 10.5
Playoffs 12 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 14 0

Injuries can happen at any time of the season. Case in point, Max Pacioretty recently injured himself during a training session in Florida. The Canadiens announced that Pacioretty will be out for approximately 12 weeks as of July 10. He is without a doubt the Habs' most offensively-gifted forward, and ended the season with 67 points, his third time with a 60+ point season since 2011-2012. During the shortened season in 2012-2013, Pacioretty had 39 points in 44 games with the club.

Max Pacioretty GP G A Pts PIM PP SH GW S S%
Reg. Season 80 37 30 67 32 7 3 10 302 12.3
Playoffs 11 5 2 7 16 1 1 0 46 10.9

These two injuries, mixed in with the barrage of injuries that other organizations faced post-season, had me wondering if certain athletes are actually more at-risk for injury over others.

The simple answer is yes. There are certain individuals who may be deemed more ‘at-risk’ for suffering athletic injuries. For example, athletes who show high levels of anxiety (both in their sport and personal lives) as well as lower levels of coping skills and low social support do show a higher risk of sustaining injury. Interestingly, when these kinds of ‘at-risk’ athletes receive stress management training, their likelihood of suffering an injury, and the amount of time lost due to injuries, is lower than when compared to other ‘at-risk’ athletes who did not receive any kind of stress management training¹.

Athletes who recover quickly engage in injury rehabilitation, but also recognize the influence of sport psychology. Goal-setting, positive self-talk, and working with a professional who fosters an empathetic relationship will all benefit an athlete’s mindset when facing any kind of season-interrupting or season-ending injury. An interesting study done in 1996 found that athletes working through knee injuries who utilized goal-setting techniques actually saw decreased recovery rates. We often joke that Pacioretty (aka Wolverine) recovers much quicker than others, but perhaps he and the Habs’ sport psychology consultant, Sylvain Guimond, interact more often than we know.

For athletes like de la Rose and Pacioretty, who are dealing with their injuries during the off-season, working with a sport psychologist, in addition to their medical staff, can help to promote faster healing and allow them to be both mentally and physically prepared once the new season begins. Though many fans are concerned with how injuries during the off-season may hamper summer training, having the right rehabilitation specialists around to support any athlete is key in their off-season preparation. Having the right mental skills trainers around throughout the season may also help prevent athletes from becoming injured in the first place.

¹Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. (5th). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics