Negotiating Identity: how elite athlete mothers navigate their journey through sport.

Lingam-Willgoss, Candice (2023). Negotiating Identity: how elite athlete mothers navigate their journey through sport. PhD thesis The Open University.



The objective of this study was to examine the transitional experiences of elite female athletic mothers from different sports and how those experiences impacted on their identity. Through the adoption of a phenomenological approach, underpinned by a qualitative research design, in-depth interviews were conducted with five elite female athletes. Two athletes competed in winter sport and the remaining three were distance runners. All participants had become mothers during their elite careers and returned to compete at the same level. Three of the athletes had retired; one retired during the study and one was still competing. In-depth interviews were analysed using thematic analysis allowing key themes to be identified within each athlete’s story. Results revealed six identity-related themes: transitioning to elite sport; being an athlete; organisational stressors; injury; motherhood; retirement. In addition, two other key themes related to management of transition emerged: social support and the nature of the sport. The main conclusions of the study were that winter sports athletes experienced more cultural, organisational and logistical challenges through their career. Furthermore, all five athletes successfully transitioned from athlete to mother athlete but the support received differed between sports. Findings also extended the research related to the way athlete mothers negotiate multiple identities and how they felt combining identities was beneficial to them as athletes at the psychological level. Future research should examine further the differences between different types of winter sport as well as the physical implications during the return to sport phase following childbirth.

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