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Resilience in Sport: The Path Back to Health

Playing sport can make us feel powerful and strong; it allows us to feel connected to our bodies and makes us intensely aware of just how much we can do with them. It can also provide us with connection to a team, whether that’s a close partner in a tennis doubles match, or a full team of seven netball players.


But what happens when our bodies or our minds fail us in some way? This may mean that we’re unable to indulge our love of sport during a rest and recuperation period, and it can sometimes mean that we’re not able to return to that much loved activity at all. How do we handle this situation and where do we find the resilience with which to move forward?

If you experience a serious setback like an injury or a period of ill health, staying motivated towards recovery is key. Acknowledging your need for a rest period is important, but it is also essential to remain driven towards achieving good health again. Good health may not look the same as it did before the injury, but the concept gives you a goal to aim towards.  

Tennis champion Serena Williams has experienced persistent problems with recurring shoulder and knee injuries, causing her to drop out of several competitions over the years. This is always a massive blow for the top athlete, and she has opened up in the past about suffering from depression because of it.

On top of her physical injuries, she has found herself in a low place mentally due to forced time off from her vocation and having to rest her recovering body. However, her answer to getting back out there is to stay focused on the future. She says that she remains dedicated to improving her form and playing better than she ever has done before once her mind and body are back up to full health.

It quickly becomes obvious how crucial resilience is to a sportsperson when they sustain an injury. Olympic hockey player and professional poker star, Fatima Moreira de Melo, knows a thing or two about resilience of both the mind and the body. She had the chance to reflect on this when meeting with motor racing pro Connor Cummins, who returned to the sport after a horrific accident in 2010. De Melo was impressed by Cummins’ determination and dedication to getting back out on the track after an incident that almost killed him. His commitment and positive attitude towards recovery are what got him back doing what he loves.  

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De Melo comments that riding with Cummins made her painfully aware of her own body’s vulnerability, and injury or ill health can be the trigger that brings this home to many athletes - as Serena Williams also found. It is acceptance of this vulnerability that eventually leads to a better understanding of both the sport and your body, along with the natural skill and devotion to training that were already there. Injury is never welcomed by athletes, but it can be a blessing in disguise if you approach it in the right way.

The key to maintaining resilience in the face of injury is accepting your own imperfections and having a positive outlook on them. You are a human being, not a robot, and therefore you will experience human weaknesses. Rather than dwelling on feelings of failure, however, it is better to look forward to how you will overcome these setbacks and come back bigger, better and brighter in the future

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