Many athletes strive to excel in their sport, dreaming of fame and fortune, aiming for a career as a professional athlete. In the Nordic countries, becoming professional often implies a migration across national borders. In this relocation, it is not only crucial for transnational athletes to adapt in sport, a cultural and psychological adaptation is also needed (Ryba, Haapanen, Mosek, & Ng, 2012; Agergaard & Ryba, 2014). The purpose of this study was to examine team handball players’ experiences of their first transition and adaptation to a professional league in a foreign country, with a specific focus on their perceived demands and coping strategies. Participants were 18 senior elite team handball players (10 male, 8 female). During narrative-type interviews participants were encouraged to tell their story, focusing on how they experienced their first transnational transition. Participants’ narratives were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2013), themes and patterns of meaning were identified. The four major themes of perceived transition demands were: ‘Learn new cultural and social codes’, ‘Adjust to the rules of the new club’, ‘Accept the result focused environment’, ‘Acknowledge your role and play it’. Three themes of coping strategies were: ‘Embrace the challenge’ (e.g., be aware of the new context, negotiate and adapt to new norms and expect the unexpected) ‘Embrace yourself’ (e.g., to care for and prioritize yourself in a self-centered, but still positive way) and ‘Embrace your demons’ (e.g., accept feelings of doubt and anxiety and carry on regardless of them). Based on the research findings recommendations will be provided for psychological support of transnational athletes in their transition and adaptation abroad.
31st Annual Conference of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), September 28 - October 1, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona, USA