A Coach's Role in Supporting Athlete Mental Health Post Injury
In a 2023 NCAA-led survey completed by more than 6,000 head, assistant and associate coaches, over 80% of respondents reported spending significantly more time discussing mental health with their student-athletes than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s increasingly apparent that mental health is necessary for athletes throughout their careers. With more than 3.5 million youth sports injuries occurring annually, athletes are highly susceptible to mental health challenges post injuries. Although sports injuries are a major risk factor for increasing an athlete’s risk of mental health challenges, the psychological effects of injuries are not commonly discussed.
When an athlete is injured, the primary focus becomes rehabilitation and treating the physical injury. Athletic trainers, physicians, and physical therapists take the stage. However, another key player in the athlete care ecosystem is integral to athlete wellness. Coaches have a unique, up close and personal understanding of their athletes. Athletes often look to their coaches for guidance, validation and self-worth. When an athlete sustains an injury, coaches can be the first line of support to address the mental health aspects of healing.
Coach tips for supporting athlete mental health post-injury:
- Keep the athlete connected to the team. Create opportunities for the athlete to be involved by providing a role. This could look like assisting in practice, game planning or scouting opponents.
- Coaches can consider incorporating mental health literacy education amongst their teams to help athletes build their ability to identify mental health symptoms and encourage help-seeking.
- Physical screening is standard in sports, but coaches can encourage mental health screening to raise awareness and provide crucial resources.
Click here to learn more about NCAA coach resources for supporting athletes mental health
- Bescoby, C. (n.d.). Shifting the spotlight: Mental health of injured athletes. Sports Injury Bulletin. https://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/diagnose--treat/shifting-the-spotlight-mental-health-of-injured-athletes
- McGuire, C. (2023, January 25). NCAA coaches report increased focus on mental health, detail personal challenges. NCAA.org. https://www.ncaa.org/news/2023/1/26/media-center-ncaa-coaches-report-increased-focus-on-mental-health-detail-personal-challenges.aspx
- Mind-Hab: Helping Injured Athletes Return to Play. Geneva, IL Sports Psychologist. (2021, January 19). https://mindseyesports.com/mind-hab-helping-injured-athletes-return-to-play/