Dr. Vogan has specialty training in sport psychology as it relates to performance enhancement, recovery from sport injury, and retirement transitions. He completed his master’s degree in sport psychology and attended a clinical psychology doctoral program with a dual focus on sport psychology. In addition, he has spent hundreds of hours researching the effects of a season-ending injury on athletes through his Master’s thesis and Doctoral dissertation. Consequently, due to his integrated training in both specialties, he is well versed in the sport specific reactions many athletes experience as well as the human response to an injury.
According to Bobby Knight, “mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.” In broad terms, mental toughness means an individual is able to cope better than their opponents with the demands of sport. More specifically, it means being better and more consistent than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure. Furthermore, it means remaining fully focused on the task at hand despite distractions, possessing unwavering determination to bounce back from set-backs, and thriving on the pressure of competition.
Retirement from sport is often an involuntary, premature occurrence, frequently due to injury. Because of the commitment required to succeed in sport, many athletes have not properly prepared for this transition and are often surprised by the intensity of the loss they experience. Although there are many objective steps an athlete can take to mitigate the intensity of the retirement process, issues of a loss of identity, isolation from teammates, and lack of purpose in life are often difficult issues to navigate alone.
Although psychological factors may be assumed to play a more significant role in severe injuries, this may not always be the case. The significance of any loss is determined by the athlete’s own value system as well as personal and situational factors. Any disruption from an athlete’s normal routine has the potential to cause frustration and anxiety. Many athletes are habitual in their routines and when change occurs it may be met with a negative reaction.
These injuries are usually quite severe and often require surgery followed by several months of rehabilitation. Generally, when a severe injury occurs, the injured athlete must cope with an excess of medically based information, the loss of physical capabilities, and the emotions of withdrawing from a desired activity. In addition, the athlete will likely become dependent on others to fulfill daily living tasks which may exacerbate feelings of helplessness. Losing control of one’s physical movement and having to depend on others may be quite challenging for most athletes, especially when sporting environments encourage self-reliance.
When a career-ending injury takes place, it is a time when vital issues such as permanent retirement, identity crisis, and the transition from athlete to ex-athlete status emerge. Depending on the severity of the injury the athlete may be confronted with permanent damage to bones, cartilage, ligaments, and nerves as well as varying degrees of brain damage and arthritis. Consequently, this may significantly impact an individual’s ability to lead a productive and fulfilling life outside of his/her sport. In addition, the injured athlete is more susceptible to depression, substance abuse, self-destructive behaviors and suicidal ideations. Although athletes respond differently to similar situations, a career-ending injury commonly overwhelms the coping resources of most individuals.