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Injuries - Is It Always Doom and Gloom? Introducing SIRG and Its Benefits
October 11, 2021
Oli

Introduction

Sitting on the side-lines for an extended period due to a sports injury can have a multitude of negative effects on an athlete’s psychological well-being, such as anxiety, denial, grief, and frustration. Injured athletes also describe a loss of motivation and control due to experiencing an identity crisis. Adhering to a rehab programme can therefore be difficult, accompanied by expectations to recover and return to pre-injury performance levels by a specific deadline.

Yet despite these negative setbacks, getting an injury doesn’t have to be all bad; research has highlighted the potential benefits that can be experienced following injury. The term to describe this positive change is sport-injury related growth (SIRG), which can provide physical, behavioural, social, and psychological opportunities for growth.

What is SIRG?

Defined as the “perceived positive changes resulting from sport-injury related experiences”, SIRG can “propel injured athletes to a higher level of functioning” than was present prior to the injury. Described as a process rather than an outcome, it has the potential to affect future adverse situations, such as personal stressors and competition. Specific examples of these can include increasing resilience or mental toughness, strengthening supportive relationships and becoming independent. However, regardless of the path of change, it is important that the athlete views this change as positive.

It is important to note that athletes who are aware of, and have control over, their own thoughts are more likely to consider the injury as an opportunity for personal development and can provide a positive outcome. After this positive reappraisal of the injury itself and the circumstances around it, it is considered that athletes are more likely to experience positive emotions as a result (hope, interest etc). These positive behaviours and emotions can therefore lead to various other dimensions related to SIRG, e.g., psychological (resilience), social (strengthened relationships) and physical (increased physical strength).

What are the Benefits of SIRG?

Although injury is initially seen as a negative, reflection and openness can provide a wide variety of benefits to the injured athlete, both in and outside of sport, in areas they may not otherwise achieve if the injury had never occurred.

The following are areas in which SIRG has been found to be a benefit, as well as a short description in how these benefits can relate to athletes:

How to enable it? 

Now the above sounds great in theory, but how can you actually achieve SIRG following an injury? An immediate response to an injury is typical negative (‘why has this happened to me’, ‘I am going to miss out on so much sport’, ‘it is going to take ages to recover’ etc…). However, over time, an injury can be viewed in a more positive light due to having an opportunity to process your emotions following the incident and exploring other opportunities to grow outside of the sport (socially, educationally etc).

An athlete can determine and take control of the narrative of their injury in several ways, such as reflecting on the injury itself, the emotional response to the injury and how the experience has shaped their future sporting and life goals.

Additionally, considering the injury to be a learning experience has been shown to strengthen both the self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to execute behaviours required to achieve their desired performance) and psychological wellbeing of the athlete.

Important note: to facilitate SIRG, the athlete must consider the injury and the resulting difficulty as a challenge. Not only can this lead athletes to accept their injury to be a threatening experience, but it can also provide alternative opportunities, such as learning about injuries and rehab, working on another area in their sport which would not affect their injury, and spending time with their friends and family outside of sport.

Despite the above suggestions for athletes looking to achieve SIRG, this is not a one size fits all approach. Instead, it is key to recognise that there is no timeline to determine how long it will take the athlete to decide for themselves that they are ready to move forward from their experience. Personal reflection can allow for athletes to begin viewing their injury in a different light, a chance for learning and growing both inside and outside of the sport, and potentially develop another identity away from the sport.

Applying This to the ‘Real’ World

The benefits of SIRG are clear, as mentioned above. However, there still lies the important question; how do you achieve it? Unfortunately, it is not a quick fix, and a lot of self-reflection is needed before anything can change. Nonetheless, below are a few suggestions for coaches and athletes who are looking to facilitate SIRG:

Conclusion

Injuries in sport can provide physical and psychological strain on athletes and can affect both their sporting and personal lives.

SIRG is a phenomenon which can provide a positive change following injury, including increased physical, behavioural, social, and psychological functioning. However, it is the athlete who should come to this realisation that there is an opportunity for growth when they are ready, and not let it be dictated by coaches or parents on a certain timeline who feel as though they know how long it will take to emotionally recover from an injury.

To best enable SIRG, athletes should positively reappraise their injury as a way of learning and reflect on the whole experience to understand how they were able to cope with, and overcome, this hurdle. To work towards this reappraisal of their injury, athletes can seek support from practitioners who can help in identifying and labelling the growth that has been achieved, as well as recognising the opportunities that have come as a result of the injury. Sharing the experience may also help others who are going through similar situations, recognising that they are not alone.

Key Takeaways 

  • Seek Support
  • Share your injury experience with a coach, trainer, or sport psychology practitioner
  • REMEMBER - SIRG is not a linear process with injury recovery – although SIRG is important, sharing the challenges and adversity that comes with injury should still be spoken about
  • Growth can take a long time to develop and is not inevitable. It requires a lot of practice and commitment

REFERENCES

 Howells, K., & Fletcher, D. (2015). Sink or swim: Adversity-and growth-related experiences in Olympic swimming champions. Psychology of sport and exercise16, 37-48.

Howells, K., Sarkar, M., & Fletcher, D. (2017). Can athletes benefit from difficulty? A systematic review of growth following adversity in competitive sport. Progress in Brain Research, 16, 37–48.

Mellalieu, S. D., Neil, R., Hanton, S., & Fletcher, D. (2009). Competition stress in sport performers: Stressors experienced in the competition environment. Journal of sports sciences27(7), 729-744.

Roy-Davis, K., Wadey, R., & Evans, L. (2017). A Grounded Theory of Sport Injury-Related Growth. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 6(1), 35-52.

Rubio, V. J., Quartiroli, A., Podlog, L. W., & Olmedilla, A. (2020). Understanding the dimensions of sport-injury related growth: A DELPHI method approach. PLoS one15(6), e0235149.

Salim, J., & Wadey, R. (2018). Can emotional disclosure promote sport injury-related growth? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology30(4), 367-387.

Trainor, L. R., Crocker, P. R. E., Bundon, A., & Ferguson, L. (2020). The rebalancing act: Injured varsity women athletes’ experiences of global and sport psychological 
well-being. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 49, 1-10.

Wadey, R., Roy-Davis, K., Evans, L., Howells, K., Salim, J., & Diss, C. (2019). Sport psychology consultants’ perspectives on facilitating sport-injury-related growth. The Sport Psychologist, 33(3), 244–255.