High-level athletes' perceptions of success in returning to sport following injury

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Objective:For many injured athletes, a safe and successful return to sport following injury is the ultimate aim of injury recovery. Little consensus exists however, regarding the meaning of a “successful” return to sport following injury recovery [Evans, L., Mitchell, I., & Jones, S. (2006). Psychological responses to sport injury: a review of current research. In S. Hanton, & S. D. Mellalieu (Eds.), Literature reviews in sport psychology (pp. 289–319). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers]. The purpose of this investigation was to obtain greater insight into this issue by examining high-level athletes' perceptions of a successful return to play following injury.Method:Using a longitudinal design, 12 elite athletes from Australia and Canada were interviewed on a total of 40 occasions over a six–eight month period.Results:Perceptions of success centered on (but were not limited to): a return to pre-injury levels and attaining pre-injury goals, staying on the “right” path, creating realistic expectations of post-injury performance, and remaining uninjured.Conclusions:Consistent with previous research [Podlog, L., & Eklund, R. C. (2007a). Professional coaches perspectives on the return to sport following serious injury. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 1, 44–68], findings from this investigation highlight the importance of self-determination theory (SDT) constructs – namely, competence, autonomy and relatedness – in relation to athlete perceptions of a successful return to sport from injury. Such findings support the value of an SDT perspective in guiding future research and intervention efforts aimed at facilitating successful return from injury.

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