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Returning from Injury

by Dr. Patrick Cohn

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James Stewart's mental toughness will be tested this year after sitting out the SX season with an injury!

photo: Buckley

Motocross athletes are a special breed. Injuries are just a fact and commonplace in motocross. Most of my motocross students hobble into my office with a fresh injury. If you ride on the edge, you most likely will suffer injuries that keep you on the sidelines watching racers trackside.    Your biggest challenge after injury, even when you’re 100% physically ready to race again, are the mental scars you have to overcome. Your mental scars after injury often take longer to heal than your physical injuries.     Athletes often have many concerns and fears returning to racing. Some of these fears include worry about recovering 100% from injury and returning to top form in races. My goal for students is to take a more positive attitude about injury to lessen their anxiety and apprehension and remain more confident about returning to competition.

My first recommendation is to prepare your mind for the worse, but expect the best. You should not ignore the severity of the injury and go into denial about the injury. You must have a plan for recovery (based on the possible outcomes) and know that the number one cause of forced termination from sport is injury. I want you to be aware of the common anxieties and fears about returning to racing. Your goal is to cope with your fears or worries to help you be confident when the time comes to jump back on the bike for practice.

What are the major fears that cause anxiety for racers when preparing to return to practice or racing?
Here are a few examples:

  • Will I be able to make a successful comeback after the surgery?

  • Will I return to my previous level of performance or speed when I return? Have others in my class gotten better than me?

  • Will I have to train even harder after injury to compete at my previous level and keep up with other racers in my class?

  • What if the exact same injury happens when I get back on the bike?

Many of these concerns seem logical, but are ineffective for a positive mindset and a strong come back. I use a mental strategy to change negative thoughts into positive ones, which I call reframing. Reframing is about challenging beliefs and changing the way we think about certain situations. The goal is to reframe your fears (change how you look at them) to reduce the emotional impact and help you be more confident and think positively about returning to competition.

Here is an overview of the process of reframing:

  1. Identify and define the specific problem and write it down.

  2. Identify the negative feelings, thoughts, or emotions about the problem and write them down.

  3. Reframe or change the negative thoughts or feelings into positive thoughts that will lead to success and write them down.

  4. Post your reframes where you can read everyday.

  5. When you think about your situation with negativity, read your positive thoughts. Continue until you have a positive frame of mind.
Travis Pastrana has never had difficulty with the mental side of injury

photo: Cudby

Let’s look at an example of this process. “Will I be able to make a come back after the surgery?” This fear will eat away at confidence if not kept in check. A better thought process would be, “I’ll come back stronger than ever after injury because of my determination to make a strong return.” Can you feel the difference in these two statements? You can also motivate yourself with examples of other MX riders (or athletes) who have come back successfully after an injury. I am sure you know friends that were able to come back after a major injury and pick up where they left off. I’ll keep it real too…. I know you have friends that had career-ending injuries also.

Do you think you should focus on examples of successful comebacks? Yes! You want to expect the best, but prepare your mind for anything. Reframe the injury to help you see the good in it. Your “vacation” from racing might help you get caught up on some work, spend more time with your family, research new training methods or equipment, re-commit to your fitness program, or even improve your mental game!

Your next step is to post these reframes where you can see them everyday. You must adopt a healthy philosophy about your injury. Your top priorities are to be confident, patient, and determined when you are physically ready to return to racing. If you take care of your feelings and anxieties about returning to racing, you will be mentally ready when the doctor says you are physically ready to get back to what you love doing!

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a sports and race psychology authority. He excels at coaching athletes in auto racing, motorcycle racing, and motocross, including racing teams to help them reach their peak performance and perform in the zone. As an expert in mental training for racers and the psychology of racing, his driver education mental skills programs for racers and teams increase teamwork, concentration, composure, and confidence. His goal is to boost the mental horsepower of your team using race psychology instruction, which gives your team the mental advantage! Dr. Cohn works with individual racers as well as team members to develop a mindset for racing success.


That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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