Professional challenges in elite sports medicine and science: composite vignettes of practitioner emotional labor

Rebecca F. Hings, Christopher R. D. Wagstaff, Valerie Anderson, Sarah Gilmore, Richard C. Thelwell

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Objectives - Our aim was to provide an insight into professional challenges encountered by sports medics and scientists (SMSs) in elite sport organizations and illuminate the emotional labor required to navigate such challenges.

Design - A semi-structured interview research design was used, and data informed the development of composite vignettes, a form of creative non-fiction.

Method - Eighteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with sport and exercise psychologists (n = 6), physiotherapists (n = 5), strength and conditioning coaches (n = 5), one sports doctor and one generic sports scientist to facilitate data collection via guided reflection. An interpretive thematic analysis was performed, and key codes and themes were used to develop three composite vignettes.

Results - The composites were based on participant accounts comprising three professional roles: (a) sport and exercise psychologist, (b) physiotherapist, and (c) strength and conditioning coach. The interplay between the factors affecting emotional labor in the SMS field (e.g., ethics, power, culture), the enactment of emotional labor (e.g., emotion regulation and observable expressions), and the outcomes (e.g., personal and professional) are illuminated in the vignettes.

Conclusions - These data extend research on professional practice in SMS and emotional labor in three ways: (a) providing a novel theoretical contribution to explain emotional labor in professionally-challenging situations (b) examining the requirements for SMSs to enact emotional labor as part of their professional role and (c) building upon other innovative and rigorous forms of data representation that might be used as a pedagogical tool for reflection with students, trainees, and neophytes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-73
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date10 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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