"What are you supposed to do – stop? " Navigating sport injuries within a narrative of forward momentum


Narrative inquiry holds promise as an approach for understanding how athletes make sense of and story their experiences of injuries (Williams, 2020). This study examined athletes' injury experiences, framed within a narrative of forward momentum (Tamminen et al., in press) that emphasizes concerns about continual progress and increasing performance achievements. Thirteen current and former competitive athletes (9 women, 4 men; M age = 25.5 years) participated in multiple interviews (total = 37 interviews) reflecting on their sport careers. The data were analyzed using Dialogical Narrative Analysis (Frank, 2010). Within a narrative of forward momentum, injuries were seen as setbacks that could cause athletes to lose out on their progress and which they would have to 'catch up' on. Taking breaks due to injury was undesirable due to the impact on athletes' sense of progress, although breaks could be 'allowed' if injuries and time off were validated or sanctioned by doctors or coaches. Athletes continued to draw on a narrative of forward momentum during rehabilitation by turning their attention and efforts toward activities that could return them to training and competition as soon as possible. A narrative of forward momentum also shaped the way that athletes told stories about the timing of their sport injuries, such that injuries sustained during the off-season were described as less disruptive to their progress and forward momentum in sport. A narrative of forward momentum may thus be a useful or a potentially dangerous companion story (Frank, 2010) for athletes whose careers are disrupted by injuries.

Acknowledgments: Funding for this study was provided by a SSHRC Institutional Research Grant from the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.