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How We’ve Helped Pro Athletes Mentally Return From Injury

girl athlete sweating working out

One of the most challenging mental setbacks that an athlete can face is being sidelined by an injury; it can make you feel frustrated, uncertain, and annoyed.

Most athletes see it as a negative, but at Molliteum our Difference Makers see it as an opportunity to innovate and reinvent, themselves.

It’s a time to take note of where you currently are, understand what opportunities you have to better yourself, and strategize the next actions you need to take so you can return better than you were before.

It’s an opportunity to take control of your state, work on your identity, and enhance your certainty to avoid the depression periods of the grief cycle and come back stronger than before.

The problem is that most know what to do to recover from an injury physically, but have no idea what to do to come back from an injury mentally; how do you come back from an injury feeling just as confident, and certain, as you were before? How do you avoid doing too much?

Here’s the simple Molliteum blueprint that we use with athletes to help them mentally return from injury.

Step 1: Understand the Grief Cycle…with Molliteum Innovations

The Grief Cycle is a five-stage cycle that people go through when they experience a setback in life; usually, the more dramatic the setback is, the longer the grief cycle lasts. It starts with denial or shock, which then leads to anger, and forces you into a stage of “bargaining.”

Bargaining is the lowest point in the grief cycle because it’s where you feel purposeless and helpless, leading to periods of depression that end with acceptance. As the theory goes, once you get to the final stage of acceptance, you're said to be “finished” with the cycle.

kubler ross grief cycle

However, we don’t love that idea at Molliteum - we believe that you shouldn’t have to “accept,” what happened and be done with it; you should see it as a time to reinvent yourself. And in order to do that, you have to put yourself into a final stage of the grief cycle that we call “creation.”

Creation is what we define as the true final stage of the grief cycle; it’s where you take stock of where you currently are, realize you can’t change the past and decide to take action on creating something magnificent in the future.

By doing this, you take action on the first step of reinventing yourself, which is simply to make the choice to come back better than you were before.

Step 2: Redefine Your Core Hunger

At Molliteum we call your purpose, and vision of who you want to be, your Core Hunger; it’s what, and why, you adapt each day. We have noticed that one of the biggest issues that athletes experience when they get injured is they lose sight of their Core Hunger. They get caught in the stage of bargaining for long periods of time and forget why they started and what they’re creating.

You need to consciously step back and ask yourself the following:

  • Why did I originally start?

  • What brought me the most joy?

  • How did that make me feel?

  • Who does my success impact other than myself?

Write as long of a list as you want for each question and reconnect with the joy, purpose, and excitement that you experienced when you first started. This will aid you in getting out of the bargaining stage and leaping past the depression and acceptance stage.

Next, you need to consciously step back and ask yourself the following:

  • What do I want to accomplish when I come back?

  • What do I want to create when I get back

  • Who do I want to be when I return?

Raise your standards and challenge yourself; maybe up to this point things didn’t go the way you wanted - how can you return better than you were before? This will create a new North Star for you to accomplish during your rehab process.

Step 3: Remove Your Limiting Beliefs and Create a New Belief System

Being injured is one of the best times to reevaluate your belief systems that truly guide your actions daily. We often don’t take the time to sit back and ask ourselves, “What do I really believe in?

This important question guides everything, and it’s something you need to evaluate if you’re going to come back better than before. We discuss how to change your belief systems in this episode of our podcast.

Step 4: Create New Systems

One of the biggest issues that athletes face when they go through an injury is losing the habits that allow them to be successful. Bedtimes are compromised, wake-up times are inconsistent, and crucial days to recover become lost.

The only thing that truly moves you closer to your vision is your habits. We are all a byproduct of what we repeatedly do. If you want to return from injury better than you were before, then you must create new systems for yourself.

A system is simply a set of stacked habits that happen during crucial parts of your day so that you can change your state. At Molliteum, we highly suggest having a strong Morning Power and Nighttime Reload System. Start by setting a consistent time to go to sleep and wake up in the morning. Then, simply stack more habits.

Step 5: Set 30-Day Targets

calendar of January

Now that you have your vision in place, it’s time to set targets. As an athlete returning from injury, the key is to return certain, and confident, in your abilities. To do this, you need to break things down into bite-sized chunks.

At Molliteum, we only focus on 30-day targets during an injury because of how fast things can change. The key is to set targets around being able to trust your body. We suggest setting 30-day targets for your strength, conditioning, and skill work (that’s monitored by your coach).

This will help build the physical resilience that you need so that you can trust your body to return to play. Half of the mental battle is seeing that your body is ready to handle the adversity of your sport again.

Step 6: Build Your Certainty

Your certainty is the final step in returning from an injury better than you were before; it’s coming back with the self-belief, and hunger, to dominate at your craft.

This means using a form of mental reps (visualization), purposeful and intense physical practice, studying role models and film, and having a laser focus.

Remember, the goal is to come back better than before from injury - that’s what Difference Makers do. For an entire podcast episode on this topic, simply click here and for a detailed white paper case study on how we helped an NFLer mentally return from an injury, simply click here.


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