Posted 21/09/2020 in Category 1

How do Coaches Manage Injuries in the Team?

How do Coaches Manage Injuries in the Team?

Injuries are commonplace in sport. For example, in survey of 3498 adults, 18.4% reported having a sports injury within the past 12 months. In this study a sports injury was an event that inhibited the individual from sports activity for at least 7 days, and/or involved contact with a healthcare professional. 


As a coach being able to manage the effects of injuries to players within a team is key. Injuries to players can affect team dynamics, create opportunities for some, and change the careers of those with an injury, and those who do not, and ultimately have an impact on team success. To explore how to coaches manage this important issue van Woezik et al (2019) conducted semi-structured interviews with 10 University Head Basketball Coaches from Canada. The sample comprised six male coaches and four female coaches and they had 6 to 37 years of varsity coaching experience, including one coach who has been an Olympic Team head coach 


Van Woezik and collegues were interested in three questions:

  1. what occurs within a team from the time of injury to when the injured athlete returns.
  2. how coaches responded to an injury event during a competitive season. 
  3. the strategies that coaches implemented to manage the team during the time period of injury. 


The interviews lasted between 23 and 57 minutes and thematic analysis of the data identified four high-order themes and 13 sub-themes. It is difficult to reflect the full depth and detail of the data in this blog but as a broad overview the four main themes were:


  • Reaction to Injury – this focused on issues related to how the team responded to the injury and this was affected by the status of the player, and the maturity of the team to be able to deal with the injury. The reaction of the coach was also a sub-theme with the coaches suggesting that a calm response was important to ensure that the injury did not become a distraction and that all members of the team could recognise that it was 'business as usual.'
  • Role Adjustments – Here the issues were tactical with an injury potentially leaving a void in a role on the team.  Of course where is there a void this could prove an opportunity for some players  - but players stepping into the team should not mimic the player who has left but rather fill the role to the best of their ability, in their own way, with their own skills and strengths. Roles also changed for the injured player and eight of the coaches said it was important for the injured player to maintain some role within the team. In terms of returning to play there were two main approaches. Some coaches sought to bring the returning player back to their previous role immediately but others sought to be more flexible in recognising that other players may have stepped up to fill the specific role within the team and the returning player may have to adjust to a new role on their return.
  • Strategic Shifts – this was an interesting theme that reflected whether things would change as the result of the injury and in general the data suggested continuity with no changes to practice, routines, style of play or season goals. 
  • Coach Management Strategies – Perhaps of most interest is the coach management strategies used. In particular the role of social support and providing the support to players who were injured. The coaches recognised that in particular injured players may lack confidence in coming back to their role. Open communication was key too and maintaining a team culture of the collective (we over me) was an important part of keeping focus when players were injured. So communicating early and often with all team members about the roles and responsibilities on the team, and how these change in response to injury, was an important strategy. 


This is of course only a snapshot of some coaches, in a specific sport (Basketball) but the full paper does give an interesting insight into strategies employed by coaches to manage injuries and why it is such a prevalent issue. In particular because of the frequency of injuries in Basketball the coaches had developed a very clear way of dealing with injured players in their team. 


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Van Woezik, R. A., Benson, A. J., Bruner, M. W. (2020). Next One Up! Exploring How Coaches Manage Team Dynamics Following Injury, The Sport Psychologist, 34, 198-208.