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No rest for the weary: Swedish elite handball players’ perceived demands in the transition to the national team
Halmstad University, School of Health and Welfare, Centre of Research on Welfare, Health and Sport (CVHI), Health and Sport.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9703-719X
Halmstad University, School of Health and Welfare, Centre of Research on Welfare, Health and Sport (CVHI), Health and Sport.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6198-0784
2017 (English)In: Proceedings of the Nordic Sport Science Conference – ‘The Double-Edged Sword of Sport: Health Promotion Versus Unhealthy Environments’ / [ed] Krister Hertting & Urban Johnson, Halmstad: Halmstad University Press, 2017, p. 31-32Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Introduction: Athletes have to pay a price to make their dream true, and for many this dream is to become professional and play in the national team (NT). Playing in the NT is often seen as the pinnacle of an athletic career but also as a period when athletes experience new demands due to their dual responsibility of playing in the club and in the NT. This dual responsibility brings additional performance demands, increased workload, extended travelling, many days away from home, etc., and in a combination with too little recovery, and various role conflicts leads to a stressful living. The transition to the NT can be classified as a quasi-normative (Stambulova, 2016) that is relevant only to elite level athletes. Challenging nature of this transition in a combination with its personal and social significance might put players at risk of poor coping and mental health problems (Frank, Nixdorf, & Beckmann, 2015; Stambulova & Wylleman, 2014; Stambulova 2017).

 Aim and theoretical framework: The transition to the NT was identified as a topic specific for the mastery stage of the players’ careers in the empirical career model of Swedish handball players (Ekengren, Stambulova, Johnson, & Carlsson, submitted). This model complemented by the athletic career transition model (Stambulova, 2003; 2009) served as theoretical frameworks for this study. The aim of this study was to examine Swedish elite handball players’ experiences of participating in both a professional club and the NT with a specific focus on their perceived demands.

 Method: In the narrative-type interviews 18 Swedish elite handball players (9 men, 9 women) were encouraged to talk about their careers with foci on both athletic and non-athletic development (Ekengren et al., submitted). Narratives about their experiences of playing both in professional club and the NT were extracted from a larger data set and thematically analysed (Braun, Clarke & Terry 2015).

 Results: The national team was described as a great reward for their performance efforts and achievements, but also as a burden of being time and energy consuming:

 It’s a great honour to play in the national team, and you don’t want to turn it down. But I didn’t get the recovery I required to be able to play in both. So, I had to say “no”, because it tears greatly. It wasn’t right to my club that pays my salary. (Female player 7)

 Major themes outlining the players’ perceived demands in the NT transition were:

  • it wears and tears a lot physically and psychologically” (e.g., brings higher performance demands but also leaves small time for recovery);
  • you are caught in the treadmill of recurrent events (e.g., difficult to maintain good life quality being away from family)
  • you are torn between the two team” (e.g., conflicting interests in professional and national team)
  • “you are torn between different roles” (e.g., between being the NT player and a club player, a players and a family member)

 Discussion and conclusions: The project reveals how professional athletes appraised the increasing demands when selected to the NT. On the one hand, the NT transition was seen as a reward, but on the other hand, the transition demands put players under risk of too high life stress with possible negative consequences (e.g., injuries, burnout, and depression) to follow (e.g., Ivarsson, Stambulova, & Johnson, 2016; Stambulova, 2017). Based on the research findings recommendations will be provided for psychological support of NT-players and their coaches/managers in club and federation. This will include, for example, promoting a holistic view of the players’ situation, individual recovery plans and communication skills.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Halmstad: Halmstad University Press, 2017. p. 31-32
Keyword [en]
Crisis transition, mental health, national team, professional handball
National Category
Applied Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-35477OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-35477DiVA: diva2:1160553
Conference
Nordic Sport Science Conference – ‘The Double-Edged Sword of Sport: Health Promotion Versus Unhealthy Environments’, Halmstad University, Halmstad, Sweden, 22-23 November, 2017
Funder
Swedish National Centre for Research in Sports, FO2017-0014
Available from: 2017-11-27 Created: 2017-11-27 Last updated: 2018-01-10Bibliographically approved

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Ekengren, JohanStambulova, Natalia

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