Maintaining positive mental health throughout sporting transitions: A case study of elite sporting females

Lingam-Willgoss, Candice (2018). Maintaining positive mental health throughout sporting transitions: A case study of elite sporting females. In: Competing in the Dark – Mental Health in Sport, 21 Mar 2018, Open University, Milton Keynes.


Objectives: Current research exploring career developments in sport has acknowledged them to be both unstable and multifaceted containing many emotional transitional episodes. While this area has had extensive investigation there still remains a gap in research focusing on both positive experiences of transition and the experiences of elite female athletes. The study aimed to examine the lived experience of transitional episodes focusing on factors that have led to positive transitional experiences of elite female athletes.
Design: The study was informed by the qualitative traditions of phenomenology and narratology in order to gain a deep and holistic understanding of the psychological experiences of each athlete.
Methods: Four elite athletic mothers were purposively sampled, two were from high risk sports and two from low risk sports, all had competed at international level with three competing at multiple Olympic Games. Semi structured interviews were conducted with each athlete. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using an inductive approach whereby patterns, themes and categories were identified.
Results: Key themes were identified within the narratives of each athlete that related to: planning, support networks, acceptance and change of focus as factors that contributed to their positive experiences of transition.
Conclusions: Findings of the study suggest transitions within an athlete’s career and retirement can be a highly positive experience but that this is down to clear planning and support. Even when a transition held uncertainty such as pregnancy and motherhood the creation of a new identity seems to protect elite females from negative emotions associated with retirement.

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