Alternative to the Self-Determination Theory?

In the self-determination theory (SDT), it’s assumed that all athletes possess an essential tendency for self-actualisation as well as psychological well-being. Is it fair to assume the athlete will be in a strong psychological state after returning from injury? The environment also needs to nourish and support three basic psychological needs, particularly competence, autonomy and relatedness (Podlog, L., & Eklund, R. C., 2010).

It has been highlighted through results from studies in the field and laboratory, that if an athlete’s needs and confidence, etc. has been deflated, (Podlog & Eklund, 2006, 2007) they are more likely to experience ill-being and non-optimal functioning. This theory generalises and mainly accounts for those who have the mentality and well-being to overcome injury and return to play.

Failure to return to competition, diminished post-injury performance and decrease in confidence can lead from anxiety and pressure of returning to sport from an injury (Podlog, L., & Eklund, R. C, 2010).

There needs to be a more specific theory that can be shaped and used according to the specific problems the athlete is dealing with when returning to sport from injury. The majority of coaches acknowledged that athletes had to overcome psychosocial barriers such as a loss in confidence, re-injury concerns, feeling isolated from the team and pressure to return to sport following injury (Podlog, L., & Eklund, R. C, 2007). To develop a construct that athletes can use, and determine what action to take when they are feeling a particular way, is an alternative to the

A new construct that can support all kinds of athletes needs to be developed. An athlete doesn’t need to have the mentality and well-being to overcome injury to be able to effectively use this theory, as opposed to the athlete needing these aspects to be able to use the self-determination theory (Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M., 1985). This new construct, as designed below, can be moulded to fit any athlete experiencing difficulty returning to sport post-injury.


Source of Support

Method of Delivering Support


Lack of confidence


Through training exercises

Start with simple exercise, and increase intensity, volume and difficulty

Figure 1: Basic Layout of New Construct for Athlete’s Returning from Injury, an Example used with Lack of Confidence

An example of a characteristic that an athlete may have once they have returned to sport following an injury would be lack of confidence. An example of the support they would get would be from coaches, and mechanisms, perhaps even training sessions developed to provide the confidence the athlete needs to return to sport. This could be done through the coaches starting with basic sessions that the athlete is comfortable with, and gradually increase with intensity and volume to gain the confidence of the individual. Another example may be that the individual is suffering from anxiety, and having the support of the psychologist that has developed relaxation exercises for the athlete to carry out a particular number of times a week, to reduce their anxiety and assist them in becoming calm and capable of playing sport at a level at which they had pre-injury.

This solution to the problem of the previous, broad and generalised theory may be difficult to replicate or perhaps have effective results on the kind of individual who are facing adversity when they have returned to sport. An idea or construct such as this basic one that has been developed will need to be validated and reliable, showing that it can work for athletes returning to sport post-injury. For this to occur, it needs to be used on a wide range of athletes from different sports and different types of injuries to show its flexibility and efficiency. Those responsible for this development are those who will conduct studies and research with participants returning to sport from injury, as well as the athletes themselves, their coaches as well as their support network. The more research and evidence produced will show the effectiveness of this new construct and highlight the importance of having such a flexible and useful tool to assist those returning to sport from an injury, and how to deal with the difficulties they face.


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