Transcript

The psychological impact of AFL injury

Mandy Ruddock-HudsonMandy Ruddock-Hudson
Email: m.ruddock@latrobe.edu.au

Audio

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 10.47MB].

iTunes

Visit this channel at La Trobe on iTunesU.

Transcript

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I would be your host, Matt Smith and with me today is Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson from the School of Public Health. Thank you for joining me, Mandy.

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Thanks for having me.

Matt Smith:

Now, you have been doing research on the psycho-social impacts of injuries, specifically in AFL players. Can you tell me a little bit about this research?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

This was some research that was undertaken in the School for Public Health. We, as you mentioned, researched on the psycho-social response to injury in the AFL. Obviously, the AFL is probably the highest profile sport in Australia. It also produces one of the highest rates of injury within the sporting domain.

A substantial amount of research has actually been done examining the physical factors associated with sports injuries and also the strategies to improve rehabilitation outcomes. Research in the AFL has taken a conventional approach to injury management.

There have been a number of rule changes in the AFL, which included reducing the number of send-about runners, penalties for high contact, and also research in ground surfaces. But I think sometimes, we also forget also, too, that injuries are a major source of stress for athletes. Injury can have a considerable psychological impact in athletes and an athlete's mental state, actually, impacts their rehabilitation and recovery from injury.

What we also found that research has shown that between 5-20% of injured athletes actually experience clinical levels of depression. And what was most surprising was that no research had actually been undertaken with AFL samples. A high number of research studies have been undertaken overseas with American samples, American footballers and basketball players. And considering the profile of AFL, we thought that it was important to examine these factors, especially to examine these facts to improve the quality of life for these athletes and also to assist in the reduction of stress during an injury period.

Matt Smith:

So why did you focus on AFL players? You're saying before there have been studies done in the United States, on athletes over there. Did you expect to get considerably different results over here?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Yes and no. AFL in itself is obviously very different to sports that are undertaken overseas. It's highly profiled here. Players are paid a huge amount of money compared to the general population. We see 17 and 18-year olds coming away from being drafted straight from VCE and be given the opportunity to play football. And we thought that it was an important area of research to try and identify how we can assist these players with their quality of life when what they love is actually taken away from them.

Matt Smith:

How prevalent is the tendency to treat injuries to the body and not to the mind?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Now, I think things are improving. Research is getting better in that area here and the AFL is starting to take note of the importance of looking after a player's state of mind as well as their body.

The initial aim, obviously for a player is to get out in the field and play football. And a coach or medical professional will assist in every area that they can to put their best 22 on the park. So sometimes, issues are overlooked with the mental state of the player.

It was interesting that we found that although some players were classified as physically ready to return to the competition, their psychological state were not as good as their physical state. They were quite anxious. A lot of them had concerns about re-injury.

Matt Smith:

Is there any point where these players were given more time off to recover? Or are they always pushed to go in the field if they're physically fit?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

I think it depends on the individual case. It depends on the individual athlete and also on the football club. What this research is trying to encourage is that there are other avenues that need to be examined, other aspects that accompany injury. It's not just all a physical state. It is a state of well-being as well.

Matt Smith:

The psycho-social impacts that a football player may experience, what sort of symptoms are they going to have? What are they suffering from?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

What we found, and what previous research has found, is that an injury or the loss of something has been related to the grief process. So the five stages of grief which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

So we did find that players progress through these stages. Some actually relapse into different stages. Once they had moved out, they relapse back. So we found it was very important for the athlete to be able to express what they were feeling and to be able to identify their thoughts and feelings as they were progressing through their rehabilitation.

Matt Smith:

How different is the quality of life for somebody who have only had physical injuries healed?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

I think that, once again, it depends on the individual. If I was to say if you or I who got an injury as a recreational runner, obviously the consequences would not be as detrimental for us. We could still go about our daily activities and be able to work and function. But I think for an AFL player, where they're so highly profiled, the media scrutinizes their every move, it's something that they love and it's something that they get paid to do. If that's taken away from them, we need to insure that they can return into a quality of life as well.

Matt Smith:

I suppose it's a sort of profession where physical health is such an important part of it.

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Absolutely.

Matt Smith:

Did you find AFL players were willing to talk about it their experience in emotional injuries or was that another barrier that you had to overcome?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

That's an interesting question. When I first started to investigate this research topic, I think when I went into the football communities, I obviously presented the research to the players who were physically capable of playing. I set out the aims and objectives of the research and said to them that should they be struck down with a long-term injury, this is the process that we'd like to undertake with them. So I think, at that time, it was a bit hard for them to comprehend a research project that obviously wasn't going to be necessary for them.

But throughout the season, as players do get inured, I was really, really excited and quite surprised about the response from the injured players. They took the opportunity to make time to sit down with me and discuss their experiences and what they have been feeling. And I think one of the most important aspects was that this research actually gave them the opportunity to talk. We as the general public and the media, we see footballers as invincible. And I suppose, they don't like to show emotion, especially when it comes to something as personal like that. So it was fantastic that they were able to share their inner thoughts and experiences with me, and so the material that I obtained was really rich.

Matt Smith:

This is a complete sidebar but I got a mental image of you standing on the side of the field going, "Fall over, fall over." Did you ever feel like that at any point?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Of course not. But one obstacle that I did tackle was that the year that I did the data collection was the lowest year for injuries to date. So that was something I did have to overcome. Obviously, you wouldn't wish an injury on anyone but it did help when my sample size increased.

Matt Smith:

Were there many differences in response with AFL players compared to amateur athletes or people from the general community?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Yeah, absolutely. Like I mentioned, if you or I obtained an injury, it wouldn't be so detrimental to our health. We could still function in society. Whereas for these footballers, they are taken away from their players, their teammates, the environment that they know and love, and they actually become quite isolated, isolated from their coaches, from their teammates. And with that isolation come sort of a roller coaster of emotions.

Matt Smith:

And how successful were you in implementing your findings? Did you make recommendations to them?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Yeah, we've put together some recommendations, specifically for AFL obviously but also recommendations that can be implemented without the athletes and also replicate it for junior levels as well. At this stage, the research was completed last year and submitted successfully, thank goodness. We're just starting to disseminate that information into the community and into the AFL world and in local levels.

Matt Smith:

What sort of recommendations were you making? Can you walk me through them a bit?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Sure. Some of the most valuable findings from the research, the main we found was communication. There's obviously a level of lack of communication between how a player is feeling and how potentially their coach might react to that.

As I see it, this research was the first opportunity that players got to discuss their situation. And as research has shown, whether it be mental illness or any other sort of condition, talking openly how one is feeling is obviously a way to rehabilitate. And we found that that was really important, the level of communication.

Also, a social support was a huge influence, whether it be from immediate family, partners, siblings or, once again, the football club. We did identify there some differences with the social support that was offered to, say, a player that was ranked one or two in a club compared to one who is ranked 40 or 41. They are, obviously, trying to break through to the system. So support networks were really important.

Also, utilizing the resources that are available. Football being as highly profiled as it is, there is a substantial amount of funding there and they do have access to really vital sources that can help them through their rehabilitation. But a lot of the time, the players were quite apprehensive to call on assistance and utilize their resources.

Matt Smith:

You said that the first recommendation that you made was that more open communication was needed. Did you find that that sort of thing is happening or is there still a sort of mentality in the way there?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

I think there is a slight mentality but things are getting better, whether it be AFL or other sports. We're always looking to improve performance on and off the sporting field. The AFL are open to suggestion and football clubs in particular would like to do all they can to enhance he welfare of their players.

Because I think now, in AFL, it's a full time job. Years ago, it was something that they did on the side. A majority of them worked 9:00 to 5:00, and then would go and train in the afternoons and played on the weekends. But now, it's their job and it's their livelihood. And as a community and a football club, people need to take that into consideration.

Matt Smith:

And what's the next step in your research? Where do you take it from here?

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

I'm currently in the process of putting together some journal papers in the hope of publishing in the future. My information has been disseminated to the AFL research boards. I'm hoping they would take that on board.

Also, the potentially looking to do extended research in sports, whether it being the AFL or not. There are a huge number of topics that are flying around at the moment that I'd love to be a part of, like I said, in the football community or in the sporting world.

Matt Smith:

OK, Dr. Mandy, Ruddock-Hudson, thank you for your time today.

Dr. Mandy Ruddock-Hudson:

Thank you for having me.

No results found. Try searching again:

Search for ...

Find an expert

Search our experts database.