Training Tailored to Your Needs and Lifestyle

To Play Or Not To Play

Written by Yusuf Boyd, M.S., ATC, LAT, CKTP ™, NASM CES/PES

Given the recent reactions to Jay Cutler’s decision to discontinue participation in the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears because he suffered an injury, I thought I would share a little information on the psychological process, specifically, the pressure we place on athletes to play through pain and injury.


Sport Ethic


Since the early 90’s there has been a growing interest in athletic participation and how athletes are socialized into conforming to what is referred to as the “sport ethic.” This “sport ethic,” as defined by Hughes & Coakley (1991), refers to what many athletes consider to be the definition of an athlete. Specifically, they noted four beliefs in which athlete’s consider as the criteria to be considered an athlete, which are: “sacrificing for the game,” “striving for distinction,” “accepting risks and playing through pain,” and “refusing to accept limits in the pursuit of possibilities.” (p. 309) But from where do athletes receive the idea that pain and injury is a part of sport participation?

As noted by Nixon (1993, p. 188), the beliefs and values within sport convey the message to athletes that, “they ought to accept the risks, pain, and injuries in sport.” Taking risks and playing through pain is accepted by athletes as part of striving for distinction or simply, “the game.” Athletes are often told that they have to work hard if they want to make it to the next level. For those who abide by the sport ethic, working hard entails enduring pain and injury. However, Hughes & Coakley (1991) noted that not all athletes conform to the sport ethic. They speculated even more to say that those athletes who are susceptible to group pressures, low in self-esteem, and those who view sport as their only chance to make it are more likely to conform to the sport ethic. Hughes & Coakley (1991) also noted that these athletes are socialized by others within the sportsnet to embrace the sport ethic.  




Within today’s sport culture athletes who accept the risks of sports participation and play through pain and injury are the ones who the media glorifies as being dedicated, or having what it takes to make it. Research has shown (Hughes & Coakley, 1991; Nixon, 1993; Curry, 1993; Young, White, & McTeer, 1994) that coaches will say that they do not expect their players to play injured but often motivate them to do so when they think it is necessary. When athletes refuse to accept to do so, they are often regarded as “not having what it takes” to make it to the next level. Some researchers (Nixon, 1994a; Young, White, & McTeer 1994) have noted that along with being socialized into thinking that pain and injury is a part of participation, male athletes are often told they are not “real” men if they cannot accept the risks of participation and play through pain and injury. Athletes often hear from their coaches, teammates, and the media, “No Pain, No Gain.” (Hughes & Coakley, 1991; Nixon, 1994b) The fact that coaches and journalists often stress the acceptance of playing through pain and injury and praise those who do, constitutes pain and injury as a normal part of sport participation. (Curry, 1993; Nixon, 1993; Nixon, 1994a; Young, White, & McTeer, 1994) Given this fact one can only wonder how coaches and Athletic Trainers work together in keeping athletes healthy, considering the fact that Athletic Trainers have a sole responsibility to protect and care for athletes.


Curry, T. J. (1993). A Little pain Never Hurt Anyone: Athletic Career Socialization and the Normalization of Sports Injury.Symbolic Interaction, 16 (3), 273-290

Hughes, R. & Coakley, J. (1991). Positive Deviance Among Athletes: The Implications of Overconformity to the Sport Ethic.Sociology of Sport Journal, 8, 307-325.

Nixon, H. L. II (1993). Accepting the Risks of Pain and Injury in Sport: Mediated Cultural Influences on Playing Hurt.Sociology of Sport Journal, 10, 183-196.

Nixon, H. L. II (1994a). Coaches’ Views of Risk, Pain, and Injury in Sport, with Special Reference to Gender Differences.Sociology of Sport Journal, 11, 79-87.

Nixon, H. L. II (1994b, November). Social Pressure, Social Support, and help Seeking for Pain and Injuries in College Sports Networks. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 18 (4), 340-355.

Young, K., White, P., & McTeer, W. (1994). Body Talk: Male Athlete Reflect on Sport, Injury, and Pain. Sociology of Sport journal, 11, 175-194.

BIOMechaniks: Train the mind and the body will follow

Posted on January 25, 2011  |  Permalink