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Stress Injury-Related Growth in Female Professional Football Players

It is naive to assume that athletes experience injury solely as a physical occurrence (Tracey, 2011). A loss of personal and athletic identity, decreased motivation and reduced technical ability have all been described as negative consequences of injury (Trainor et al., 2020). Despite this, a growing body of contemporary research proposes that, although these negative responses to injury are present, this narrative does not represent the holistic understanding of an athlete’s injury experience (Wadey et al., 2011). While sustaining injuries within sport has been identified to have negative consequences (Roy-Davis, Wadey & Evans, 2017), an athlete’s ability to positively adapt to adverse scenarios is essential for optimal sport performance (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2012; Morgan, Sarkar & Fletcher, 2013).

Various terms have been used when referring to growth following adversity, including: stress-related growth (Galli & Vealey, 2008), post-traumatic growth (Day, 2013), thriving (Carver, 1998), positive adaptation (Linley, 2003) and perceived benefits (Wadey et al., 2011). The conceptual ambiguity surrounding the choice of the terminology used when discussing growth following adversity led to the conceptualisation of the term Sport-Injury Related Growth (SIRG; Roy-Davis et al., 2017). Adding to Collins and MacNamara’s (2012) claim that “talent needs trauma”, SIRG is defined as ‘perceived changes that propel injured athletes to a higher level of functioning than what existed prior to their injury’ (Roy-Davis et al., 2017).

The ‘perceived changes’ of growth following SIRG have been widely explored across sporting literature, with Wiesee-Bjornstal et al.’s (1998) Integrated Model of Response to Injury suggesting that personal (e.g., personality, age, self-perceptions) and situational (e.g., rehabilitation environment, social support, type of sport) factors are examples of individual differences that affect athlete’s perceptions of injuries. The majority of SIRG research has utilised interviews with athletes to gain a deeper understanding of the thoughts, feelings and actions experienced in response to injury. A study by Udry et al. (1997) investigated the perceived benefits of season-ending injuries in 21 U.S. Ski Team athletes, categorising participant responses into three benefit-related dimensions. Personal growth, the first dimension, compromised of gaining perspective (e.g., priority clarification), character development and an outlook on non-sporting life. Psychologically-based performance enhancements, the second dimension, involved acquiring the ability to set realistic expectations, possessing enhanced motivation and increased mental toughness. Physical/technical development, the third and final dimension, included the ability to be smarter in athletic performances and to be physically stronger than pre-injury. Roy-Davis et al. (2017) further explored the outcomes of SIRG by categorising athlete experiences of adaptation post-injury into five dimensions: sport injury, resources, metacognition and challenge appraisal, positive emotions and facilitative responses, and SIRG. Conclusions from the aforementioned contemporary developments in SIRG research (Roy-Davis et al., 2017), aligned with pre-SIRG findings regarding the effects of growth following trauma (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996; Udry et al., 1997), emphasise that athletes’ possession of dispositional qualities and external support structures, positively increase their chances of experiencing SIRG post-injury.

Although guiding papers within this field have represented the experiences of a wide range of athletes from varying sports, the current sample demographic within SIRG research does not allow results to be fully representative across different sports. Where previous researchers have explored athletes from individual sports (Roy-Davis, et al. 2017; Sarkar et al., 2015; Savage, Colling & Cruickshank, 2016) and case studies (Carson & Polman, 2008), research acquired from whole squads of team sports is sparse. Particularly, further exploration into female football players’ experiences of SIRG is essential (Wadey et al., 2011), as Gledhill, Ahmed and Forsdyke (2020) are the single study to have previously considered the experiences of this demographic, albeit related to ACL injuries only.

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