Swing thoughts: The Mental Side of Injury

By Theo Bezuidenhout

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Let’s face it; it has been a long year. Financially, physically and mentally we have all had more struggles to deal with than in most years past and for many it has taken its toll.

We golfers have the advantage though of getting on to the course and to suspend our sense of reality by playing a game that we love and enjoy. However, what happens when this coping mechanism is taken away from us in the form of injury?

Some golfers will ignore the problem blaming it on age or that there may just be something wrong with a move in their swing.

Others will look at joining a gym or getting into better shape while another group may stop the game completely putting it down to wanting to have given up a long time ago and injury being the last straw.

The one thing that many golfers do not take into account is that there is actually a mental process not unlike grieving that compares closely to what an injured athlete goes through.

There are five stages to this grieving process and it is very important that injured golfers be aware of them and know how to deal with them if they are to return to action and continue playing.

In the lastest instalment of Swing Thoughts we look at these stages and make some suggestions of how to cope and counter their effects.

Denial

Feeling a twinge in a back or a wrist is not the worst trauma we can experience in South Africa. For most people this would hardly register on their drama radar, but this is exactly where we go wrong with small injuries.

We do not give them the respect they deserve and often golfers will play with a small niggle for long periods of time where the pain may be bearable, only for it to flare up and become a long-term problem.

The bottom-line is that at the first sight of injury do something, quick. This action can take the form of rest, physio or consulting a doctor but make sure you get to grips with the problem as soon as possible. Not being able to play for a week is much better than not being able to play again.

Anger

Often when something we love is taken away from us indefinitely it is fair and good to be angry. However it is important that the anger is put into positive energy as soon as possible. By staying angry about the injury one not only wastes valuable mental resources but an even more important resource: time.

By getting focused on your rehab programme and by setting goals for each session you start to take the process by the horns and you stop being a passenger in your recovery.

Also remember that self-talk and a positive attitude in the process is always more preferable than a negative and gloomy outlook on your injury and life.

Bargaining

In a world where the pace of things is often more important than the quality, it is important to not fall into the mental traps that the bargaining stage presents. In this stage the golfer who has confronted his or her injury often wants to create a short-cut in the process.

This may include doing the rehab programme more regularly than prescribed or doing more of the exercises. This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster as rehab (just like golf) is a process which cannot be rushed, and if it is it almost always will come out a flop.

Rather make sure you follow your trainer’s exact programme and check in with them regularly about your progress and let that motivate you and guide you, rather than a misplaced sense of time running away with you. By rushing the process you risk the exact thing you are trying to avoid: more injuries.

Depression

This stage is the one where athletes often linger in for the longest. The reason is simple, you miss the camaraderie of the Sunday morning group or the game you regularly have with the family.

It is often the related activities that are the most important aspects for golfers and not the golf itself.

Therefore make sure that while you heal you do not coop yourself up in your cave like a bear in hibernation.

Rather make sure you still spend time at the golf course. This can be in the form of practising your short game or putting if this is allowed or even going to drinks with friends after they have played.

This will keep you in the loop at least on a mental level and you will surely feel the support of fellow players for your recovery.

Something that is mentally much better for you than sitting at home brooding over if you will ever play golf again. As Henry Ford once said: “You think you can, you think you can’t, either way you are right.”

Acceptance

In this stage one can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are doing everything in your powers to recuperate and you can see progress in your rehab.

Another important part to this stage is the constant re-assurance that you need to give yourself that you are improving and that you will play again.

Keeping yourself calm and relaxed during this stage will also help the recovery process as you are not putting any unrealistic expectations on yourself to play or even to perform well.

Getting onto the golf course will be reward enough and the looking forward to playing is now more of draw-card than a drawback.

It is important to remember that all athletes and all levels of golfers get injuries. It is however crucial to acknowledge the massive part the mind plays in overcoming these physical obstacles.

If you don’t, you may be living with the pain for much longer than you want to or need to

Theo Bezuidenhout
www.theobezuidenhout.co.za
@TheoGolfPsych
www.facebook.com/TheoBezuidenhoutConsulting
www.linkedin.com/company/theo-bezuidenhout-consulting
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