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Injuries affect many athletes all over the world. Bianco (2001) indicate that over than 17 million sport injuries are recorded each year among American athletes. The statistics further indicate that up to 8 out of 10 athletes are prone to getting injury while in high school or college. He adds that when injuries occur, athletes are likely to be affected in their belief system, self concept, social functioning, and emotional balance. An injury that stops an athlete from being involved in sport can be emotionally and cognitively challenging. An occurrence of injury can disrupt the focus of an athlete and subsequently lead to negative psychological and emotional reactions. It is therefore important that athletes understand different levels of stress during injury. Bianco (2001) adds that through the stresses that develop during injury, athletes are able to cope properly with their new condition if they utilize well the social support systems available to them. These social support systems consist of the family members, teammates and trainers.
Malinauskas (2008) observes that social support to injured athletes helps in boosting their sense of identity and belonging either in family or a team. It also enhances self esteem and gives the athlete the sense of being in control of the situation. Malinauskas (2008) further notes that social support enhances a quicker recovery of the athlete. This is done through the provision of personal ties and reduction of uncertainty during the time of injury. Social support also ensures companionship to the injured athlete hence aids in mental and physical recovery. Bianco (2001) stated that giving social support to an injured athlete has been found to boost recovery in the process of rehabilitation. He argues that this is because social support provides the assurance to athlete that they are valued, esteemed, cared for and loved and thus helps in reducing stress and therefore quickens the process of rehabilitation.
Malinauskas (2008) argues that for social support to be most effective, it is important to ensure that it is provided at the right time. This is due to the variation in which different athletes cope with injury stress over a short period of time. For instance, Loutsch (2007) observes that some athlete may prefer emotional support shortly after an injury. This need is likely to change to informational support as they receive medical care and come to understand the extent of their injury. On the other hand, Weinberg & Gould (2010) note that post injury support from social support systems like coaches, trainers together with family and friends is important in ensuring that injured athletes minimize on the aftermath effects of injury and concentrate on the rehabilitation activities for a successful recovery. Additionally, Weinberg & Gould (2010) observe that coaches and trainers are crucial factors in post injury social support as they are capable of offering unique understanding of the athlete. They affirm that coaches and trainers are able to provide a one on one perspective in relation to informational and emotional support to the injured athlete.
Similarly, Yang (2007) found out that social support to athletes who have been injured varies depending on their sexes. For instance, male athletes tend to have more sources of social support than their counterpart female athletes. He notes that female athletes tend to have a pre-injury social support confirmed to family and friends which may likely improve significantly to coaches when they get injured. On the other hand male athletes are found to seek support only during post injury. According to Yang (2007) this observation indicates that women athletes tend to seek for attention in case of a problem thus they are able to reach out to more social support systems during the actual injury. Yang (2007) observes that those female athletes also have varied preferences about the kind of social support that they want and who such supporters can be. In this regard, Malinauskas (2008) argues that social support is a multifaceted service and thus no single type of support can be said to be universally acceptable. Bianco (2001) suggests that different care and social support systems should be established to meet the specific need of the two genders.
The role of coaches and trainers remain important in ensuring a smooth rehabilitation of injured athletes. In his study, Loutsch (2007) noted that athletes' trainers are among the most effective and efficient sources of high-quality social support for injured athletes. He adds that studies of athletic coaches and trainers’ roles in counseling athletes showed that most of the athletic trainers were of the opinion that it was important to treat the psychological aspects of an athletic injury. These psychological aspects include fear, anger, anxiety, depression, tension together with lower self-esteem. The study found out that many coaches prefer referring their injured athletes to psychological counseling. Consequently, Loutsch (2007) notes that the result of this study stressed on the importance of counseling to injured athletes and underscores the need to emphasize the need for preparation of athletic training curriculums to provide such knowledge as related to social support. It is also notable that athletes should be given training on how to use sport psychology techniques.
However, Malinauskas (2008) observes that the role of coaches and trainer in providing social support during rehabilitation of injured athletes has not been fully addressed. Loutsch (2007) while examining the role of coping with injury and social support provided to injured athletes during rehabilitation found out that the perceived satisfaction among athletes with social resources remained comparably constant throughout the process of recoveries. On the other hand, Weinberg& Gould (2010) conclude that it is evident that total recovery of an injured athlete does not depend on the needs or patterns of social support given before or after the injury. This is also the case with the difference in social support needs of male and female athletics. Therefore, Weinberg& Gould (2010) suggest that trainers and coaches should have an understanding of sex differences in social support patterns. They should also understand the effect of injury on athletes to be able to provide effective social support to both male and female athletes. In this manner, sex-specific interventions will help injured athletes to have a more optimistic view during their recovery process (Weinberg& Gould, 2010)
The Role of Family and Friends in Social Support
According to Malinauskas (2008) friends and family are the main source of emotional and practical support to injured athletes. They take actions that reassure the injured athlete of their support and thus encourage a faster recovery. He notes that by use appropriate motivational words to encourage the athletes, they are able to recover faster. Family members also can demonstrate empathy and have a supportive personality towards the athletes. Malinauskas (2008) cites that family and friends also foster a positive interaction and help in arranging for a customized training to ensure that the injured athlete does not strain up during the training which may interfere with the process of recovery.
Family and friends can effectively provide support to injured athlete in other various ways. Malinauskas (2008) confirms this when he says that social support does not only mean the achievement of recovery but it also helps the athletes to have a sense of belonging. When given support during injury, athletes are able to have confidence that they have a backing of their family members and friends whom they can rely on during situations that are beyond their control. Weinberg & Gould (2010) in their study identify areas in which family and friends can participate. These include the provision of; listening, personal assistance, task appreciation, reality conformation, and emotional support. Weinberg & Gould (2010) found out that being able to listen to the needs of the athletes during rehabilitation process was the most important form of social support by family members. The study also found out that athletes who are injured appreciates the role of family members play in recovery more than they do with support from other social groups like coaches and trainers. These athletes indicted that it is easier to adhere to recovery process when family members demonstrate commitment to provide support to them.
The Role of Coaches in Social Support
Loutsch (2007) observes that despite the fact that family members are an important part of athletes' process of recovery during pre injury and post injury stages, a good number of athletes involve the support of their coaches in a post injury stage. This may be because of their perceived professionalism when it comes to technical assistance which family members may not be able to provide. Social support in the area of technical assistance provided by coaches and athlete trainers seems to increase the satisfaction of the injured athletes. According to Loutsch (2007), this may be caused by the fact that most athletes are away from their families and friends hence they cannot have the parental care from their families.
Bianco (2001) indicates that social supporters like coaches and athletic trainers provide a new source of social support to the injured athlete in the absence of family members. Additionally, coaches and athletic trainers play an important role in preventing, recognizing, managing, and rehabilitating injuries among athletes. Furthermore, Bianco (2001) says that coaches and athletic trainers are always involved in treating injured athletes regularly in the athletic training room. Loutsch (2007) also notes that coaches and trainers become a natural social supporter to the injured athletes because of their proximity, availability, and easy accessibility. In the absence of family members and friends, injured athletes need coaches and trainers to listen to them and understand what they are going through. Weinberg & Gould (2010) argue that injured athletes need to know that the rehabilitation and recovery exercises and work they accomplished they did prior to injury are appreciated by coaches and trainers.
The Role of Team Mates in Social Support
The social support by teammates is also another important component of support to an injured athlete since teams look and functions like families. Loutsch (2007) indicates that members of a team tend to have a uniting factor as they look forward to the future. This helps them to develop ways of behavior that enhances the safety of one another besides providing social support in case of an injury to one of their team members. While in a team, the coach assumes a parental role to provide guidance in the way things are carried out in case of an injury. Most of the time trainers and coaches only come in when the case is serious and beyond the ability of teammates. The veteran teammate takes the role of an elder discipline and teaches other members on new tactics of avoiding and copping with injury. Weinberg & Gould (2010) suggest that new members in a team may be less experienced and therefore occasionally look up to other teammates for social support and guidance. This view of a team in the context of a family setup utilizes the psychotherapeutic framework known as family systems theory.
However, Malinauskas (2008) observes that teammates can only be able to provide social support if they are given knowledge and skills to assist. There is therefore need to have a program in teams where team members are taught survival skills so that they can support their teammates when they are injured. While family member, coaches and trainers are important in the provision of social support services to the injured athlete, it is important to appreciate the role that teammates play in the rehabilitation process. It is evident that all supporters play a critical role in helping athletes cope with injuries. However, Weinberg & Gould (2010) suggest that future studies should be carried out to clearly document the role that teammates play in rehabilitating injured athletes. Yang (2007) confirms this when he suggests that consideration should be placed on extensive training to social supporters in dealing with emotional and physical issues faced by injured athletes.
From the above it is evident that social support to injured athlete is a vital component of the process of recovery and rehabilitation. The bottom line of any social support to an injured athlete should be to achieve a faster recovery. There is need for social supporters to have an understanding of the psychosocial needs of injured athletes if appropriate support is to be provided. Family members, friends, teammates and coaches play a key role in ensuring that the injured athletes are rehabilitated and recovers within the shortest time possible. However, the social supporters to injured athletes must have relevant knowledge and skills in order to do so. It is also clear that male and female athletes have different needs during injury period and these needs should be evaluated to ensure that appropriate and specific support is given to athletes during recovery process.