In my first blog entry I discussed the current dilemma athletes face while trying to decide whether they should compete in their chosen field while sick or injured. In the blog I investigated the role the media can play in the decision making process of the injured individual and how the pressure (both real and perceived) can cause an adverse effect on the performance of the athlete. The following blog then looked into the strategies currently utilised by a variety of sporting teams and sports psychologists that attempt to reduce the impact the media can have on the athlete.
An athlete’s self-identity may have a major influence on the decision to play with an injury or not. An individual who has engaged in a specific sport over a long period of time with high levels of success will often depict their successes as personal attributes, so instead of being a person who plays football or netball, they instead see themselves as a footballer or a netballer (Brewer, et al. 1993). The result of this is that the athlete is more likely to continue to play the game while they are injured as the game has become an ingrained personality trait.
A study by Howe (2001) found that these high level athletes who decide to play with pain and injury become accustom to the pain, and in the minds of the athlete, playing through the injury becomes the normal expected standard of commitment and dedication. Added expectations to the athletes to play with injury were also shown by (Déroche, et al. 2011; Loland, et al. 2006). Their studies revealed the media attention and money associated with winning at the highest levels of sport, the pressures to compete through pain have grown significantly within the last fifteen years. It has also been shown that an athlete who is willing to play though the pain of an injury is more likely to gain the respect of coaches, teammates and the media (Nixon. 1994).
As mentioned in the second blog entry the current method of trying to increase the athletes mental toughness is flawed, as the attributes given to mental toughness such as, focus and ability to control their feelings, are learned though life experiences (Jones, et al. 2007; Bull, et al. 2005). This is important because if the athlete’s ability to perform under the pressure of the media is dictated by the mental toughness of the individual, and it can’t be taught, coaches will have to find a new strategy to help their athletes deal with the added pressures placed upon them (Jones et al. 2002).
In theory, the combination of an athlete with strong mental toughness and a high athletic identity will be more likely to want to play with an injury while having the ability to deal with any extra media pressure placed on them to perform. This however is not the case. The positives that are associated with having a high athletic identity are far fewer than the positives that will occur with those of an athlete with a more balanced self-worth.
The development of a strong self-worth within the athlete can create the positive adaptions wanted in the athlete to help move past any bad performances. If the athlete who had a high athletic identity is able to differentiate between underperforming in the game and their value as a person, the likelihood of them carrying the bad form from the previous game is reduced. The athletes confidence may also so an increase in response with a better feeling of self-worth, resulting in greater performances in their chosen field.
The positive adaptions that can be created with a more balanced self imagine may give the athletes the ability to handle the pressure created on them by the media and help them make the appropriate decisions in their career regarding whether or not to play with an injury.