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Return To Sports: Psychological Readiness Just Important As Physical

Test helps determine an athlete's readiness to return to sport

When your child suffers a sports injury that keeps him from participating for a week or longer, it is important for parents to remember that not only does he experience physical loss but he suffers a psychological loss as well, including decreased self-confidence and self-esteem.

As the authors of a 2009 study in The Journal of Athletic Training [1] point out, an athlete not only needs to be physically ready before she returns to the playing field, he also needs to be psychologically ready. If she returns too soon, she risks re-injury, injury to a different part of the body, depression, and/or decreased performance.[2]

So how do you know if an athlete is mentally ready to return to sports?  By testing his confidence.

By assessing the athlete's responses to a easy-to-administer, 6-question test called the Psychological Readiness to Return to Sport Scale (PRRS), athletic trainers, other health care professionals, and even parents can assess psychological readiness of injured athletes to return to sport participation.

Athletes whose scores do not increase from the time of injury to an acceptable level, or which plateau, can be identified and assisted with psychological interventions, such as coping skills and goal setting, which have been found to increase the confidence of injured athletes.

"When it comes to injury rehabilitation, it's really impossible to separate what's going on in the athlete's brain from what happens in the rest of the body," said Douglas D. Glazer, DPE, ATC, author of the study, developer of the new test, and Assistant Professor of Sports Science at Endicott (MA) College. "Psychological readiness usually increases as athletes progress through the rehabilitation process; however, if an athlete's psychological readiness before competition is low, waiting a little longer before returning to the playing field may be the most safe course of action.

"Using a reliable psychological scale to determine an athlete's readiness to return to sport is a crucial first step in keeping injured athletes safe and in the game," Glazer said.

Sources: National Athletic Trainers' Association.

1. Glazer DD. Development and preliminary validation of the Injury-Psychological Readiness to Return to Sport (I-PRRS) scale.  J Athl Tr. 2009;44:185-189.

2.  Ardern CL, Taylor NF, Feller JA, Webster KE.  A systematic review of the psychological factors associated with returning to sport following injury.  Br J Sports Med. 2013;47:1120-1126. 

Revised April 10, 2015