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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Elite athletes' experiences of identity changes during a career-ending injury : an interpretive description Muscat, Anne Carolyn


The purpose of the present study was to investigate patterns of identity change in elite athletes after a career ending injury. A qualitative study examined 9 retired athletes two to five years after their international competitive experience. An interpretive description analysis involved four levels of data analysis. The first level of data analysis identified a pattern of over identification with the elite athlete role and a clear pattern of more balanced identity contrasted with a less balanced identity prior to injury. The second level of analysis described smooth versus ineffective transitions after injury. At a third level of analysis, four factors (internal resources, cognitive coping style, relational connections and continuity with sport) emerged and were associated with smooth versus ineffective/turbulent retirement experiences. Finally, at the fourth level of analysis the study found four identity styles. These four styles (termed balanced identity, lost identity, intensification of identity and living for sport identity) are congruent with descriptions of adolescent identity and suggest that, for some athletes, tasks associated with identity development are delayed until retirement from sport. A pattern of positive adaptation was also identified, indicating that over commitment to an athletic identity does not preclude normative identity development or a positive retirement transition. Athlete autonomy and confidence, as well as relationships with coach, teammates and parents, were associated with the experience of a smooth versus turbulent retirement. Implications for practice are discussed in relation to factors that could promote adaptation in the event of sport injury or sport career termination.

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