Returning to a sport following an injury can be difficult. The individual can feel pressure from themselves or those surrounding them, to return and compete at pre-injury level (Podlog & Dimmock, 2011, 12(1), p. 36-42). The athlete will need to overcome any doubt they have and work on their mental toughness. Ultimately, the idea of returning to sport following an injury is the aim for most athletes.
Research has provided information in regards to what the athlete should primarily focus on when returning from injury. A study conducted by Podlog & Eklund (2005, 14(1) p. 20-34) revealed that intrinsic motivations for returning to competition were associated with a positive renewed perspective on sport participation. Setting achievable goals, and obtaining motivation and determination when the individual has returned to sport has them concentrating on taking necessary steps in returning and playing at an optimum level. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for itself and for the pleasure and satisfaction derived from participation (Vallerand, R J., 2004, p. 427-430). In 1992, Vallerand and colleagues proposed and showed that there are at least three types of motivation. These included intrinsic motivation to know, towards accomplishments and to experience stimulation (Vallerand, R J., 2004, p. 427-430). All three of these aspects allows the individual to feel the pleasure of learning, as well as trying to exceed themselves and for the aesthetic and sensory pleasure of playing, and as a result, allow athletes to begin feeling comfortable playing post-injury.
Recent literature has highlighted the adversity injured athletes are faced with when returning from sport, with a range of psychosocial concerns. The results suggest that athletes returning to sport from injury may experience concerns related to their sense of competence, autonomy and relatedness (Podlog L, Dimmock, J & Miller, J., 2011, 12(1) p. 36-42). This is concerned as poor self-confidence; creating anxiety can lead to much bigger problems such as depression and even substance abuse.
Self-efficacy is something the individual athlete needs to develop to overcome their sense of poor confidence and autonomy. The self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation, where the athlete needs to have self-belief and drive if they are to have any success when they return to sport. This theory can assist in overcoming the self-doubt some may have, which can therefore overcome any negativity related to returning to sport from injury. For self-determination to improve, Ryan & Deci (2000) concluded that the environment must satisfy three basic psychological needs, namely competence, autonomy and relatedness (Podlog. L, Eklund. R. C., 2010, 28(8), p. 819-831). Three distinct types of primary appraisals have been identified that assist in self-determination (Gagne, et al., 2003), which are goal relevance, motivational congruence and ego-involvement. These factors also support previous research that flexible goals focusing on skill development are likely to foster a sense of competence (Podlog, L. & Dionigi, R. 2010, 28(11), p. 1197-1208), which tends to be absent when an athlete returns from an injury.
Taylor and Taylor (1997) produced a stage model on the return to sport of an athlete. This model was composed of five physical and psychological stages. They also suggested that adaptation was likely to occur as the athlete came to accept the injury, recognises the inevitability of what the future may hold, and receives social support to alleviate negative emotions (Podlog, L. & Eklund, R C., 2007, 8(4), p. 535-566). These support the base of the self-determination theory, and highlight the importance of the theory’s constructs.
There are necessary developments for future research when athletes are returning from sport post-injury, as there is little agreement that exists in regards to the meaning of a ‘successful’ return. Competitors are increasingly pressured to return to sport as soon as they can, which can lead to them returning before they are ready, not just physically, but also psychologically, increasing the chance of a re-injury (Bauman, J., 2005, 15(6), p. 432-435). The SDT has potential for understanding findings in this area and for guiding future research (Podlog, L. & Eklund, R C., 2009, 10(5), p. 535-544) ensuring athlete’s needs are being met, which may produce positive return-to-sport outcomes.