What’s your story? How to make sense of and create meaning in injury experiences

Artistic Gymnastics – Final – Women’s Individual All-Around Final –  Jade Barbosa (BRA) of Brazil is tended to after injuring her ankle during her floor routine at the women’s all-around final. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Paper title: Storying sports injury experiences of elite track athletes: A narrative analysis. 

Publication: Psych of Sport and Exercise

Publication date: June 2021


Formulating and sharing stories offers a way of making sense of injury experiences. These stories, although unique, are shaped through the athlete’s socio-cultural context. The athlete’s narrative acts as a resource to help them interpret the circumstances of their injury. This study aims to identify narrative typologies of sports injuries and explore athletes’ injury experiences throughout their careers. The investigators shift the focus on the performance narrative, whereby priority is on performance outcomes and injury is a consequence, towards breathing greater meaning into injury experiences.


This qualitative narrative inquiry explored 15 elite track athletes’ injury experiences across 18 months. Data collection included a series of interviews and timelining to capture both the story of participants’ injury experiences and to facilitate a conversation around athletes’ critical moments within their athletic careers, such as their injuries. Researchers analyzed the interviews and timelines as stories through the lens of dialogical narrative analysis. The classification of stories facilitated the construction of six types of elite athletics injury narratives. Each narrative had a consequence on athletes and their athletic careers.


The six narrative typologies included: Resilience, Merry-Go-Round, Longevity, Pendulum, Snowball, and More to Me. These story typologies highlighted how a culture of risk and performance narratives influence injured athletes’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors across the course of injury and return to sport. Additionally, findings demonstrated how additional socio-cultural sporting practices and values such as prioritizing long-term athlete development influenced injury stories and experiences.

In conclusion, these stories could help coaches and clinicians anticipate some of the challenges associated with certain injury storylines, facilitating the introduction of intervention strategies before issues occur. Furthermore, athletes need access to various stories to help them make sense of their injury experiences. Finally, clinicians could use these stories as educational tools to find meaning in diverse ways.

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