Overuse injuries such as Achilles tendinosis and runner’s knee are very different from other “health problems” such as migraine and flu. Whereas the latter cause all-day physical discomfort, most overuse injuries hurt only when you try to do the specific activity that caused them. And yet they bother you just as much, don’t they?
The point I’m getting at is that sports injuries are more psychologically than physically harmful. If you didn’t mind not running for a month, plantar fasciitis isn’t a big deal. The same cannot be said of irritable bowel syndrome. As an often-injured athlete, I know this as well as anyone, and I have a strong appreciation for the importance of addressing the psychological dimension of injury.
That’s why I’m so excited about the new book Rebound: Train your mind to bounce back stronger from sports injuries. Coauthored by mental skills expert Carrie Jackson Cheadle and running journalist Cindy Kuzma (who happens to be a friend of mine), Rebound functions as a kind of mental training plan for the injured athlete. Most athletes just kind of muddle through the mental aspect of injury. This book offers a far more effective alternative that will help you be less miserable the next time you get injured and also get more out of that next injury.
Cheadle and Kuzma identify 15 mental skills that are essential to injury recovery:
Confidence: “Belief and trust in your ability to accomplish your goals”
Focus: “Capacity to direct or redirect your energy and attention to what’s relevant and constructive”
Goal-setting: “Ability to define what you want to accomplish and create a plan to achieve that target”
Motivation: “Drive and desire to put in the work and push toward your goals and aspirations”
Stress management: “Proficiency at using coping skills and strategies to eliminate stressors when you can and to regulate the stress response when you can’t”
Attitude: “Positive approach and mindset to facing adversity, challenges, and setbacks”
Communication: “Competence at clearly expressing your opinions and ideas—and ability to hear and understand others’ perspectives”
Emotional intelligence: “Ability to recognize emotions, discern their origins, and understand how they affect behavior”
Self-awareness: “Conscious knowledge about how you operate, including how you think, feel, and react”
Visualization: “Skillfulness at creating and recreating vivid, controllable images in your mind”
Discipline: “Persistence in pursuit of longer-term goals and deeper values”
Generosity: “Willingness to extend grace toward yourself and others”
Mindfulness: “Adeptness at keeping you consciousness in the present moment—or at bringing it back there—and acting as an objective observer of your own experience”
Psychological flexibility: “Willingness and ability to adapt to changing circumstances by shifting your reactions, behaviors, and perspective”
Resilience: “Power to bounce back from hardship or adversity and thrive despite setbacks”
Rebound shows athletes how to strengthen each of these mental skills. One of the things I like most about the book is the authors’ recognition that each athlete is unique and should therefore take an individual path toward becoming more adept at dealing with injury. In reading Rebound, I recognized that I’m not very skilled at practicing generosity. More specifically, I tend to get angry at my body when it breaks down. Cheadle and Kuzma suggest that athletes like me write a sympathy card to themselves as a way of fostering a more generous mindset. I gave it a try and found it surprisingly comforting.
Another strength of the book is its abundance of inspiring and edifying examples of athletes who have used the very same tools Cheadle and Kuzma teach to bounce back stronger from injuries. Collectively, these illustrations show fragile athletes like me that they are not alone and they need not reinvent the wheel to get better at dealing with injuries. One of my favorite case studies is that of Amelia Boone, a champion ultrarunner and obstacle racer who turned a small quad injury into a major career interruption by allowing that voice in her head to talk her into hurrying the recovery process. She learned from the experience, though, and eventually returned to the top as a wiser athlete who is unlikely to ever make the same mistake again.
There’s no doubt about it: “Injuries Suck.” (This is the literal title of Chapter 1 of Rebound.) But I promise that if you read this much-need and well-executed book and put its guidance into practice, your injury experience will suck less, and you will love the sport you love all the more.