Duncan Simpson and Lauren P. Elberty are the investigators in this study. Simpson is with the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida as the Head of Mental Conditioning. Elberty is with the University of Miami as a master’s student focusing on Mental Health Counseling. The study used by Simpson and Elberty is an interpretive study. The purpose of the study is to discover the meaning and commonality of feelings and emotions by student athletes when they experience the unexpected death of a teammate. The investigators used student athletes from around the country to obtain their data used in this study.
To be included in the pool of participant candidates, each student athlete had to have competed, either currently or formerly, at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I, II, or III level or had to have been part of a team associated with athletics such as cheerleading, dance, marching band, etc. Also, the participants must have been at least 18 years of age and be willing to discuss their experience of losing a teammate unexpectedly. After evaluating all of the candidates, the final sample included nine participants including six females and three males ranging from 19 to 30 years of age. The reason why nine individuals were chosen as the sample group was because the information obtained during the interviews with the sample pool became redundant.
The method of the study included exploring researcher bias, data collection, data analysis, and confirming thematic structure. When exploring the researcher bias, the researcher participated in a bracketing interview, which one uses to try and set aside theories, knowledge, and assumptions about a certain topic, structured to pinpoint her biases regarding the research topic. Next, the researchers focused on data collection. This process commenced by recruiting participants through email, social media, and a sport psychology list serv. The participants were then interviewed via video conferencing and over the phone because of the geographical locations of each participant. The researcher always began the interview with the same first question to each participant which included, “When you think about your experience of losing a teammate what stands out for you?” Once the initial question was asked, the follow up questions were determined based on the participant’s response. The participants were the controller of the content and length of their interview. Each interview ranged from 37 minutes to 106 minutes in length. Once the interviews were completed, the interviews were transcribed verbatim and any information that would reveal the identity of a participant was removed. The transcripts were then returned to the participant to review and verify content and accuracy. All participants confirmed that their transcript was accurate and portrayed their experience with no changes needed to the transcript.
To accomplish the phenomenological research contained within this study, an interpretive research group was used, which included the two authors, three faculty members, and one graduate student. First, each member of the interpretive group individually read each participant’s transcript to grasp an understanding of the text and overall experience of the participant. After the individual readings, each transcript was read aloud to the group with the group taking frequent breaks from the reading to engage in discussions, questioning, and reflections of themes developing from the text. This process identified major themes and subthemes and helped exhibit the connection between each. This process ultimately led to a thematic structure which was shared with the participants who concluded that it accurately represented their experience.
The results, which are consistent with prior research, show student athletes that experience death of a teammate unexpectedly go through a vast range of emotions and behavioral responses. The major themes and subthemes revealed by this study included Emotional Response (Explainable and Unexplainable), Behavioral Response (Isolation, Coping, Tributes), Faith (Religion and Spirituality), Social Support (Coaches, Teammates, Others), Team Cohesion (Unity, Leadership, Team as a family), and Change in Perspective (Motivational and Reflective). The present study provides additional insight into the nuances of the responses and show that some athletes may need additional time and attention to focus on how to deal with a loss such as losing a teammate, which is critical for the work of clinical sports psychologists. However, the authors point out that even though this study offers additional insight into the experience of death of a teammate, the findings are limited. The authors acknowledged that the themes that arose as a result to this study are only a representation of the current participants and not those of all individuals who experience death of a teammate. Even though the responses of the participant candidates became saturated and redundant when initially speaking with participants, the emotional and behavioral responses can vary depending on the individual.
This study has practical significance as the specific nuances experienced by the participants offer practical applications for sport psychology consultants, coaches, and administrators desiring to provide support to their student athletes during a difficult time such as unexpectedly losing a teammate to death. This study memorializes the importance of clinical sport psychologists’ understanding of grief and now it can emerge in emotional and behavioral responses within a team environment. This information should help practitioners be proactive in their work and develop a plan within athletic departments to focus and deal with the grief that can impact teams when dealing with the expected death of a teammate.