Title: “The Rebalancing Act: Women’s Experiences of Psychological Well-Being During Serious Sport Injury”
Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Peter Crocker (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Andrea Bundon (Kinesiology), Leah Ferguson (University of Saskatchewan)
Chair: Dr. Eli Puterman (Kinesiology)
Abstract: Sport injury is a stressful event because it poses threats to an athlete’s physical, emotional, and social well-being (Heil, 1993), which manifests cognitively, emotionally, and behaviourally (Brewer, 2007). On the contrary, there is also much to be gained from the sport injury experience (Tracey, 2003). There has been very little attention given to athletes’ psychological well-being (PWB) during injury recovery. PWB is defined as “living well or actualizing one’s true potentials” (Deci & Ryan, 2001, p.2). Further research is needed because the knowledge of factors that impact athlete well-being are sparse, and prevalence of well-being among athletes is unknown (Lundqvist, 2011). A thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 12 currently seriously injured women varsity athletes was employed to explore athletes who have a current serious injury (out of sport for 21+ days) and their perceptions and experiences of PWB during sport injury recovery in the Canadian varsity sport context. Four main themes were identified. Firstly, my life is chaos and out of control; sport injury disrupted participants’ life creating chaos and a sense of lack of control, which disturbed one’s psychological well-being. Participants perceived their sport injury to trigger an identity crisis and a sense of loss, as well left them feeling overwhelmed in response to the demands of sport injury and stagnant in pursuit of their athletic goals. Secondly, pressures shaping response to sport injury; participants identified three pressures that shaped their response to sport injury. Sport culture was a dominant pressure, which included participants pushing through, and normalizing pain and injury, ultimately shaping their perceptions of injury as weak. As well participants’ fears and anxiety around injury perpetuated their negative emotional appraisals of injury. In addition social support was perceived as valuable only if it came from someone with similar experiences. Thirdly, maybe I can: adaptation from sport injury; participants eventually reached a state of hopefulness where they perceived they could begin to adapt to sport injury. This included a process of resisting and accepting, expanding the self, rebalancing, and gaining awareness. At the crux of adaptation was rebalancing one self to enter a state of equilibrium, harmonizing one’s psychological well-being. In addition, participants perceived sport and global psychological well-being to collide, where both played a large role in one another. However, it was identified that global psychological well-being is the foundation, or backbone of one’s well-being. Finally, sport injury growth; participants were able to reappraise their sport injury experience, identifying personal growth from sport injury. Sport injury growth included sport injury as a learning experience, resilience and triumph, and having a greater appreciation for sport and health. Findings suggests that sport injury is challenging and can initially hinder one’s psychological well-being, however once one can rebalance to establish a new state of psychological well-being, sport injury is perceived as a positive event that can lead to sport injury growth. These findings could help further our understanding of injured athletes’ experiences of PWB and how athletes could be better supported.