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“You get knocked down and you get back up again! It’s the only way!” Exploring transitions, critical moments, identity and meaning within professional football. A mixed methods approach.

Tonge, A (2022) “You get knocked down and you get back up again! It’s the only way!” Exploring transitions, critical moments, identity and meaning within professional football. A mixed methods approach. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Abstract

Much of the current transitions-based research literature has investigated ‘end points’ (i.e., coming away from sport and the retirement stage) and not ‘within transitions’ (i.e., what happens more frequently whilst in the sport). More definitively in relation to football, there has tended to be a specific research focus on younger age groups such as academy players and academy environments. There is limited research which involves professional players and professional cultures. This has been largely in part due to the difficult nature of research access and confidentiality issues around professional sport. Therefore, the present thesis has extended knowledge of transitions by moving the research field into professional sport (football) and professional football culture. As well as the ‘end points’ of transition the thesis has investigated experiences that professional football players had more frequently and how these experiences threatened, disrupted and challenged identity.
Across three studies utilising a pragmatic research philosophy, the thesis explored transitions, critical moments, athletic identity, and the culture of operating in a first team professional football environment. Study One used an evocative, analytic auto-ethnography which provided a rich, detailed account of personally lived experiences of the author. These experiences were charted around different transitional points spanning approximately 20 years in total and written using a monological narrative approach. Key moments were highlighted using a showing, not a telling approach. The narrative presented a range of issues within the journey of a professional footballer. Key existential themes were considered from a “feeling and emotional insider viewpoint” rather than a “detached but interested” outsider viewpoint. The monological narrative presented many challenges through the eyes of a professional footballer and their daily practice. These challenges included lived experiences around transitions, cultural adaptation, experiences with managers and coaches, support mechanisms, de-selection and coping with the end of a career. To extend the monological viewpoint, Study Two employed ‘an alternative voice’ approach and in-depth qualitative phenomenological interviews were used to assess critical moments within the journeys of six ex-professional footballers. The purposeful sample included players who had played for professional football clubs at what was an elite level (i.e., they had all played in the highest tier of English professional football). Analysis of the narratives was based on an existentialnarrative framework which centralised on the subjectivity of human experience. The interview data suggested that as the players made journey into and through the professional game, frequent issues appearing had an impact on their identity and mental health. These issues included deselection (e.g., being left out of a team or squad), loans, short term, and long-term injuries, dealing with negative media and challenging relationships with teammates, coaches, and managers. These more frequent experiences brought about feelings such as isolation, anxiety, fear, loss, desperation, anger and even humiliation. Finally, Study Three used a positivist, quantitative, survey approach to assess the prevalence of critical issues (and topics wrapped around critical issues) unearthed within Study One and Study Two. Data were collected from a cohort of 212 ex-professional football players (40% of the sample had primarily played at Premier League/Championship level and 60% had played primarily at League One/ League Two level). Analysis of the numerical data suggested that as the players navigated their way through the professional game, high percentages of issues were reported which can have an impact on and threaten identity. The data also suggested that support around transitional points and critical moments was low and that more was needed to be done from a cultural perspective to assist players develop a broader identity, deal with critical moments more effectively and help maximise career longevity.
Findings from the thesis can be disseminated to help educate and inform staff who are based around players within professional football (e.g., welfare, managers, coaches, parents, and agents) and more specifically sport psychologists within their training (and development) who aim to work in professional football. Often, players do not talk openly and discuss issues which have affected them until they have left the game. By providing insight and a greater understanding on the types of issues that players experience and face within their journey as professional athletes, improved support mechanisms can be administered and embedded.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Transitions; Critical moments; Identity; Professional Football
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV561 Sports
Divisions: Sport & Exercise Sciences
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 11 May 2022 09:51
Last Modified: 11 May 2022 09:51
DOI or Identification number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00016763
Supervisors: Nesti, MS, Morris, R and Richardson, D
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/16763

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