Title: “There’s more to life than sport”: Athletes’ experiences coping with concussions”
Thesis Supervisor: Peter Crocker (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Andrea Bundon (Kinesiology), Michael Koehle (Kinesiology)
Chair: Tania Lam
Abstract: Sport-related concussions are emerging as a growing health concern, with the documented occurrence doubling over the last decade (Mrazik et al., 2016). Concussions in sport are often accompanied by a negative emotional experience (Elbin at al., 2014). One key to successfully overcoming concussions is an ability to cope with emotions associated with them (Hutchison et al., 2009). A thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 13 student-athletes (5 males, 8 females) was employed to investigate how athletes cope with and appraise the emotional experience of concussions in the Canadian varsity sport context. Four main themes were revealed. Firstly, participants appraised their concussion as unique, emphasizing the individuality of the injury. Concussion was viewed as challenging due to limitations as a result of symptoms, timing of the injury and a difficult emotional experience in comparison to other sport-related injuries. Secondly, the culture of playing through pain and injury in sport influenced how participants viewed their concussion. Participants felt they had to accept this culture in order to be a successful athlete as injury is a sign of weakness and should therefore be viewed as part of the sport experience. Thirdly, participants described distractive coping as a way to manage their injury. By continuing to be active in life, participants felt they were able to overcome their concussion, which lead to a positive reappraisal of their injury where they began to see it as an opportunity for growth and development. Finally, participants described the challenge of navigating their concussion recovery with limited information provided and available to them. The implications of misunderstanding of their injury both by themselves and others was a challenge in their recovery. Thus, participants relied on the support of others who had experienced concussion to help them overcome the challenges of injury. Findings suggest that concussion recovery is challenging, and perception of this experience is influenced by the existent sport culture. More information was desired by participants and would have helped them in coping with their injury. Findings suggest that emotional experience of concussion is an important consideration in both concussion recovery and treatment at all levels of sport.