I was 9 months into my rehabilitation from tearing my cruciate ligament and it was time to get back to playing hockey; the sport I loved, but also the sport that had caused this horrible injury. With the guidance of my Physiotherapist, I’d made a fast but sensible recovery and he’d taken me through a programme of rehab that got me fit to return. My gym work was strong, so my leg strength had returned to normal, and my cardio vascular fitness was even better than what it was before my injury, so I was all set.
I remember stepping onto the pitch for training the first time since the injury all those months ago, feeling really excited and just a little bit nervous. I had a jog around for the warm up and started to hit some balls to my teammates and it felt great! I’d missed this sport so much and had even missed the sound of the ball thwacking on the sticks. Things were going well until training stepped up a gear and we got into attack vs defence. That’s when I realised I had a problem. I couldn’t turn at speed off my left leg. Everything else was fine – straight line sprinting, low speed turning, putting your stick in where it might potentially hurt…but out of nowhere came this huge mental block. Despite all the positive physical rehabilitation I hadn’t done anything to address any possible mental issues and this one snuck up on me without warning. Even striking the ball whilst running at speed was an issue, as I normally planted my left foot then hit; my mind wouldn’t let me do this either. The solution? I subconsciously changed my whole hitting style and only hit off my right leg and I completely avoided high-speed turns off my left leg. Not the best idea, and possibly what caused my right knee to give out on me four years later with another torn ligament.
Fast-forward 10 years and I’d taken a Masters in Applied Sport & Exercise Science, which included a module on Sport Psychology. Among other topics, we read about the psychology of injury and bingo! It was like a light bulb had gone off. My cognitive appraisal of the situation I found myself in with my hockey had kicked off huge fear of re-injury emotions, which in turn, had impacted on my behaviour by avoiding those movements and changing my style of play. If only I knew, I could have done something more constructive, but back then but sport psychology was relatively unheard of, especially at grassroots amateur level. Fast-forward yet another 10 years and I’d taken a Masters in Applied Sport Psychology to further my interest in this area. My injury experience gave me the desire to support other athletes like me who might be struggling with various psychological challenges, but weren’t sure where to turn. This is when my business, ithinksport was born. I now work as a Sport Psychology Coach, supporting individuals, teams and coaches, helping them to bring sport psychology into their training and competition programmes at all levels of sport.
I eeked out my hockey playing days as long as possible and tried a whole range of other sports, including football, to stay fit and active. Unfortunately the knee injuries got the better of me and retirement was looming. Not one to give up completely, I decided that I needed a physical challenge to keep me focussed and to keep hold of my athletic identity. A challenge that wouldn’t cause any more impact injuries for my knees, but something I could really get my teeth into. I set my sights on a long distance bike ride from my home in Pontypridd (South Wales, UK) to Chamonix in the French Alps, on my old mountain bike. It would involve riding close to 800 miles over 11-12 days, reaching a combined elevation of more than 28,000 feet and pedalling on average 60-80 miles a day. Although I wasn’t equipped with a great standard of fitness, I made up for it with a whole heap of mental skills and strategies that would get me to the finish, and would aid me when the going got extremely tough. I had strong visual images for key points along my journey: reaching the port of Newhaven, arriving in Paris and making it to the finish. These were extremely vivid and extremely motivational. I had this big hairy goal of making it to Chamonix, but this was broken down into very manageable parts so that I was achieving success every day, sometimes four times a day as I reached my mileage goals. I also kept my self-talk in check. When you’re physically and mentally spent, it’s easy for your self-talk to persuade you not to carry on, or to fill your head with negative thoughts about how rubbish this is and why are you even doing it in the first place as you’re riding in the rain with another 40 miles to go! But by being strict and having some counteracting statements up my sleeve I managed to keep the negativity to a minimum and use more positive and instructional statements. Without a doubt, my mental skills got me to the finish, and my vision of rolling into Chamonix with Mont Blanc gleaming in the background was every bit as sweet as I imagined it to be. My hockey and football playing days are over, but I’m glad to say that another bike challenge is just around the corner, and I’ll be practicing my mental skills well in advance!