Understanding the staff cancer through the perceived experiences of varsity male soccer players

Cole E. Giffin, Robert J. Schinke*, Thierry R.F. Middleton, Gretchen Kerr, Michel Lariviére, George Kpazaï, Brennan Petersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Informal roles can be beneficial or detrimental to sport performance. Researchers have identified negative informal roles within sports and organisational contexts; however, exploration of these roles has been limited to athletes within sports research or staff members within organisational research. To our knowledge, negative informal roles occupied by a staff member on a sports team have not been studied. The purpose of the current research was to develop an introductory understanding of a negative informal staff role on a sports team, henceforth referred to as the staff cancer. Working within a critical realist framework, we utilised photo elicitations and arts-based conversational interviews to augment comfort and interview seven former varsity male soccer players concerning their perceived experiences of the staff cancer. Two overarching themes representing the characteristics and consequences of the staff cancer were developed using an interpretive/inductive thematic analysis. Four subthemes represent the characteristics theme, including passionate, insecure, controlling, and poor communicator, while five subthemes represent the consequences theme, including poor mental health, team divide, team unification, diminished performance, and increased attrition. The results are presented through a composite vignette to safeguard participant confidentially. This manuscript makes a valuable contribution towards understanding some of the characteristics and consequences of the staff cancer, showcases clarity regarding the application of critical realism, and highlights how combining methods can be used to augment participant comfort when discussing sensitive topics, such as coaches’ and athletes’ power hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1045
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number6
Early online date21 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • arts-based conversational interview
  • cancerous staff
  • composite vignette
  • critical realism
  • Informal roles


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