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Mind and Body (II) – Mental Goals for Sports Injury Rehabilitation

In the previous article in this series, Mind and Body (I) - Psychological Factors for Sports Injury Rehabilitation,we took a broad overview of the various key psychological factors crucial in enhancing an athlete's recovery from injury. One of the key factors, goal-setting, was distinct from the other four factors was that it formed the bed-rock on which the rest work off. Without goals, the other factors cannot help drive the athlete in the desired direction and rate of recovery.

Goal-setting is de-rigour in sports training. We aim to swim a little faster by a certain time or jump a little higher in clear, discrete measurable steps. The same works in rehabilitation when recovering from an injury. Perhaps more than anything else,  it provides the injured athlete with a sense of control and enhance motivation, persistence and committment.

How does setting goals benefit?

xSystematic goal-setting gives an athlete an active role in the healing process helping increase self-confidence. It also helps reduce anxiety by focusing the athlete on what needs to be done. Research by Bull, Albinson and Shambrock1 recommended small but significant daily goals works best to ensure motivation and confidence remain high to enhance the healing process.

The following are guidelines for goal-setting in injury rehabilitation as suggested by Wayda, Armenth-Brothers, & Boyce2:

  • Goals should be meaningful to both physiotherapist and athlete.
  • Goals must be performance – not outcome – oriented.
  • Goals should be individualized for each athlete.
  • Goals must be objective and measurable.
  • Goals must be specific.
  • Goals must include a criterion for success.
  • Goals must be realistic but challenging.
  • Goals should be stated in positive terms.
  • Progressive short-term goals should lead to a long-term goal.
  • Goals should have a target for completion.
  • Goals should be few and prioritized.
  • Goals should be accompanied by strategies for achievement.
  • Goals must be recorded and monitored.
  • Goals must hold athletes accountable.
  • Goals must be reinforced or supported.

In the next article in this series, Mind and Body (III) - Imagination and Self Talk for Sports Injury Rehabilitation , we will have a look at imagery and  self-talk in greater detail.




  1. Bull, S. J., Albinson, J. G., & Shambrock, C. J. (1996). The mental game plan: Getting psyched for sport. UK: Sports Dynamics.
  2. Wayda, V. K., Armenth-Brothers, F., Boyce, B. A. (1998). Goal-setting: A key to rehabilitation. Athletic Therapy Today, 3(1), 21 – 25. 

Adapted from a technical paper contributed by Poh Yu Khing, a sports and performance psychologist. Poh Yu Khing was formerly the Head of Sport Psychology at the Singapore Sports Council. An ex-national badminton player, he has also taken part in small endurance events such as the half-marathon and mini-triathlons. In his spare time outside of his day job, he enjoys consulting with athletes and performers as a freelance sports & performance psychologist. He was also the author of a regular “Golfing Mind” column in the local GOLF magazine.

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