Tips and advice from those who know
If these emotions are suppressed, they
create problems later when the gymnast is
making a comeback, especially when they
attempt the skill that they were working on
when they suffered the injury.
Founder and director of The Institute of Sports
Psychology in Houston, Andrews is the sports psychology
consultant for the U.S. men’s national gymnastics team,
coaches and staff as they prepare for the 2012 Olympics.
As a licensed therapist and certified sports counselor, he
has developed a highly effective model for assisting athletes as they recover from the psychological trauma of
injury. He also implements a cutting-edge system for
maximizing athletic potential and performance. Andrews
recently fielded questions from IG Editor Dwight Normile.
What role, if any, does a positive attitude play? A positive attitude is critical to
the full recovery from a sports-related
injury. A strong, positive mindset and attitude make the down
time more bearable and the recovery process much more productive. I always suggest that the injured athlete stay as connected to
his/her sport as possible. Attend workouts when you can, and
help out with training schedules and competitions. Disconnection
and isolation from teammates and the sport itself can contribute
to a downward spiral in attitude.
What is the common series of emotions most gymnasts
feel after an injury, such as an ACL tear? It is traumatic for a
gymnast to be performing at his/her best one moment, and then
suddenly suffer the devastation of a serious injury. Each athlete
responds differently, but I see a general emotional pattern.
Injured gymnasts I have worked with report an initial feeling of
shock and disbelief. Many recall the doctor’s words “It’s an ACL”
very vividly. From that point on, their world becomes very confusing as they anticipate the uncertainty of surgery and a long
recovery back to competition. This shock and disbelief can be so
pronounced that many gymnasts cannot put words to what they
are experiencing or feeling. They can become withdrawn and
quiet. As the seriousness of the injury is revealed, the emotional
Some gymnasts experience feelings of anger and frustration
when they realize the full extent of their injury. It is traumatic to
realize that a season is over, that surgery is required, and that
there will be a long recovery period. The mental and emotional
obstacles are tremendous.
Before surgery, many athletes suffer high levels of anxiety and
fear. For most gymnasts who suffer a torn ACL or another serious injury, this is unfamiliar territory. The younger the gymnasts,
the fewer coping skills they have to help them deal with the trauma they are going through.
Are there exercises for the mind, as there are for rehabbing
the injured body part? Yes, there are exercises athletes can do
on their own, and there are more advanced exercises and techniques that some sports psychology consultants use. Where the
mind leads, the body follows. Being conscious of the thoughts
and images you entertain in your mind is critical to recovery.
Mindfulness of the injured gymnast’s thoughts, attitudes and perceptions during recovery can help create a positive mental outlook.
Are these emotions a natural part of the recovery process?
Yes. Tearing ligaments and tendons and breaking bones is traumatic physically, mentally and emotionally. There is a tremendous surge of information the nervous system and brain are trying to process. Athletes are conditioned to be resilient, tough and
courageous, so they may not show outward signs that they are
suffering, scared, depressed or anxious. It is important that the
injured gymnasts and those in their support system create an
environment that encourages them to work through the cauldron
of emotions they are experiencing.
You worked with Raj Bhavsar after his disappointment of
not making the 2004 Olympic team. Were you in contact
with him soon after the 2008 Olympic trials, when he was
initially named alternate again? Kevin Mazeika asked me to
start working with Raj in September of 2007. Raj was a model
student of the work we implemented leading into Winter Cup,
the Visa Championships and Olympic trials in 2008. I was in the
hotel lobby when the athletes came down from the selection
meeting. It was a difficult time for all of us in his camp. I know
that Raj was mentally and emotionally prepared for the selection
committee’s decision. It was a big risk coming back again and
going through the intensity of an Olympic run.
To come back and hit 12 for 12 in the Olympic trials was his
goal. He accomplished that goal. The work Raj did mentally,
emotionally and spiritually prepared him for the decision to go
either way. I believe this helped him rise to the challenge when
asked to step up and represent his country.
I attended the team qualifications and the team finals at the
Beijing Olympics. Raj’s Olympic performance was stellar and he
was a strong leader for team USA. —Continued on page 45
“It is traumatic to realize that
a season is over, that surgery
is required, and that there will
be a long recovery period.”