- This study developed a grounded theory of how participation in high-performance swimming affects athlete wellbeing.
- A dominant performance narrative influences the development of an exclusive swimmer identity that was tied to performance.
- Transitions are critical points where wellbeing is likely to be affected.
- Wellbeing is affected when performance and identity are impacted.
- The use of proactive coping strategies help minimise the impact on wellbeing.
The demands of elite sport have the potential to negatively impact on athletes’ wellbeing (e.g., Arnold & Fletcher, 2012; Rice et al., 2016). Despite this, not all elite athletes experience detrimental effects, rather some individuals thrive in an elite sports environment. The reasons why some athletes experience positive wellbeing while others struggle remains unclear although, in part, due to methodological limitations of previous research. To overcome these limitations, the purpose of the current study was to examine how change in high-performance swimmers’ wellbeing occurs.
Grounded theory methodology was used to enable examination of processes of change.
Semi-structured interviews with 22 current and five retired swimmers, eight coaches, and seven support staff were used to generate data alongside observations and field notes.
The resultant theory illustrated how a dominant performance narrative influenced the development and maintenance of an exclusive swimmer identity that was tied to performance. Specifically, transitions were highlighted as critical points where wellbeing was likely to be affected, due to the increased potential for change and uncertainty to impact on performance and subsequently identity.
However, the use of proactive coping strategies, such as anticipating and planning, as well as accessing and utilizing appropriate support were shown to help minimize the impact on wellbeing.