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Wiese-Bjornstal’s Sport Psychology Perspective: True Confessions of a Warrior Girl

09/18/2008

Diane Wiese-Bjornstal, Ph.D. — Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology; Association of Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant

In many ways I was a “warrior girl” still am, I think. So I truly do understand what these girls feel: The over-powering desire to mask pain, injury, or fatigue so as not to miss a moment of playing time, give less than 100%, or appear weak. But fortunately for me, this style wasn’t an option at the tender age of 10 or younger as it is for girls—and boys—today, so I survived relatively unscathed at least until college. Being a Sport Psychology Professor by day and a mild-mannered soccer mom by night, I view the topics in Sokolove’s book through two lenses. As a scholar, I see that our studies of the psychological reactions of athletes post-injury have illustrated the same full spectrum of cognitive, emotional and behavioral responses reflected in the book’s many anecdotes. Sadly, some young athletes express “relief” after sustaining an injury because they feel it is the only way to escape the pressures of sports and still “save face.” Pre-injury studies reveal that those athletes who are physically and mentally fatigued—self-imposed, such as perfectionist standards, and other-imposed, such as pressure from coaches or travel time—are more likely to sustain injuries.

As a mom, I see that parental responsibility for athlete health is often abdicated to coaches. The unhealthy decisions that parents sometimes make for young athletes—and that Sokolove highlights with such powerful examples as “we can’t stop her, she has a mind of her own,”  or “I don’t want to ‘waste’ her talent” —are simply bogus. I admire those parents described in the book who drew the line in the sand when an athlete’s health was in jeopardy. But parents should also realize their beliefs and values about physical activity greatly influence their child’s behavior. Research indicates that far too often, parents perceive girls are more vulnerable, and thereby allow, even encourage, greater risk taking for boys which, ironically, puts them more at risk for injury than girls. This research finding provides additional evidence against the biology-is-destiny argument.

In sum, we must help all of our children learn to take reasonable risks within healthy boundaries in all aspects of life, sports included.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kelly Magnus permalink
    10/15/2008 4:07 pm

    I believe that females are not the only athletes that feel the need to be tough; males fight the symptoms of injury in sport as well. It is human desire to be the best and not give up, so admitting your weakness is frowned upon. This issue is not the cause of the injury epidemic in females; I think one argument for the injury epidemic among females is in the lack of education when it comes to strength training. A proactive approach to the epidemic would be to educate young female athletes on proper techniques for strength training and injury prevention. Weight lifting is popular among males to “bulk up” and is overlooked when it comes to female athletes. As a result, males have more strength to support their bodies. The lack of strength and improper strength training techniques performed by females is the source to the injury epidemic among female athletes.

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