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If you participate in gymnastics, or any sport long enough, chances are that at some point along the way you will experience an injury.  The physical process of rehabbing the injury and getting back to normal training and competition level can be a long and difficult road.  However, what is often overlooked is the mental rehabilitation that also needs to take place.  Even when the athlete is back to 100% physically, neglecting the mental rehab can prevent the athlete from ever returning to pre-injury form.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with sports psychologist, Robert Andrews, M.A., founder and director of The Institute of Sports Psychology® in Houston, TX. Andrews works with our USA National Team and has worked with several of our most notable gymnasts and coaches like Olympic Team Coach Kevin Mazieka, 2000 Olympian Sean Townsend and 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist Raj Bhavsar. Andrews’ areas of expertise and focus are on working with athletes to help them realize their peak potential as an athlete, helping injured athletes overcome the emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of their sports related injury and teaching coaches how to coach at their best when things are at their worst.

In talking with Robert, I found it very interesting to learn about how common it is for coaches and gymnasts to neglect addressing what happens to the athlete mentally when they have a significant injury.  I experienced a couple of significant injuries throughout my gymnastics career and I realize now that though I was able to recover physically, the events that caused those injuries lingered on in my mind, creating moments of self-doubt and uneasiness that prevented me from performing at my absolute best.

The most mentally catastrophic injury I had was a couple of months prior to the 2000 Olympic Trials.  I hit my head on the ground after a fluke fall sideways off of high bar.  It took me a couple of weeks to fully recover physically from this injury, but the memory of the fall played over and over like a video in the back of my mind.  Though I was able to succesfully compete the skill that caused the fall again, there’s no doubt that the psychological impact of the injury was much more damaging than the physical.

Throughout my conversation with Robert I even realized that my injury continues to manifest itself to this day in how I deal with my own children.  I am extremely hyper-sensitive about protecting my kids heads and necks, particularly when they are playing sports.  Though that may seem like a normal reaction for a parent, the fact that I still mentally re-play that image of my injury in my mind when I’m watching my kids lets me know that I definitely overlooked my mental rehab after my fall.

Coaches, gymnasts and parents need to be conscientious about addressing this psychological healing whenever a gymnast has an injury.  It is common to try and just “tough it out” and work through the physical pain, but to perform at your peak level, a gymnast’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components all need to work together in harmony.  Communication is the key during these times of injury and rehab.  The best solution may be to seek the help of a professional.  Robert Andrews is one of the best and has developed a cutting edge model for treating sports injuries, and a proven system for dramatically increasing athletic performance.  For more information, visit his web site – http://www.tinssp.com/

Train Smart. Compete Hard!

Jay Thornton

American Gymnast

http://www.american-gymnast.com