Recovery: Psychology

Why is psychological recovery important?

Psychological recovery focuses on the restoration of well-being and positive (or neutral) mood state in order to:

  • minimise the chance of overtraining, illness and injury

  • maximise training gains

Key to psychological recovery is developing a high level of self awareness. Only when you have developed a level of awareness that allows you to recognise your own emotional states will you be able to determine which activity (or strategy) can help you manage your mood and energy levels, thus facilitating the recovery process.

Recognising emotions

The most effective way athletes can assess their emotional state is via regular use of a written, video or audio diary. By reflecting on how you react to specific emotional events that happen during competition or whilst training, you can learn to become aware of whether your subsequent reactions/behaviours are positive or negative. Over time, you will learn to establish the most effective coping strategies to adopt when experiencing any similar dysfunctional thoughts/emotions and subsequent behaviours.

In team- or squad-based sports, it is important that you develop the ability to not only assess your own emotions, but also those of your team-mates. An understanding of the best way to interact with other individuals facilitates a supportive environment.

Best times for athletes to recover

Psychological recovery should be a fundamental part of your daily training programme, as it goes hand in hand with physiological recovery.

In fact, completing your warm-down and your regular physical activities tends to have a psychological effect. In addition, below are some key times when you should closely monitor your thoughts/emotions and subsequent behaviours:

  • In the days leading up to an important competitive event
    • At least 3 days before competing

  • In between performances during an important competition
    • Particularly when playing multiple matches over a short period of time

  • After all performances, particularly after extreme highs and lows

  • During times of increased life stressors e.g. when you have exams or work-related project deadlines to meet
    • The more stressful the life event/experience the more you will need to monitor your psychological recovery

  • As soon as possible after your last performance (see timeline below)

Within the first hour

  • Carry out your individual performance review/debrief, if possible

  • Relax as appropriate
    • For example, read, take in a movie or socialise

After the first hour

  • Use relaxation skills to switch off

  • Start to individually unwind, use music if appropriate
    • Particularly important if training or competing at night, as you need to cool down mentally as well as physically

  • Prior to bed sleep optimisation

  • Have a specific set time to access social support groups

  • Follow personalised sleep guidelines

Potential effects of psychological recovery


  • Increased motivation

  • Improved sense of wellbeing

  • Reduced training and life stress

  • Feeling rested

  • Increased clarity of thoughts and positive thinking


  • Lowered motivation and apathy

  • Increased level of stress/anxiety

  • Increased chance of injury/illness & burnout

  • Increased chance of symptoms of staleness/tiredness

  • Increased ruminating (repeated) negative thoughts/worries

Some key strategies to aid recovery:

  • Listen to music - Use music to elicit changes in mood states
    • For example, if over-anxious use relaxing music

  • Debrief performances - This ensures that there is closure and disengagement from performance

  • Emotional recovery - Use of simple distracters that are non-sport-related

  • Contingency planning - Developing solutions to ”what ifs” in post-performance scenarios

  • Access social support  - Know who and when to access supportive people  

  • Relaxation techniques - Exercises designed to energise and regulate levels of anxiety/arousal

This is an extract from our 2013 Recovery Booklet. Read the entire document, with references and further reading, on our website: 

Date published: 28 June 2023
Date updated: 28 June 2023


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