Social support and return to sport in concussed university athletes

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Jewell, Carley B.
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Kinesiology and Physical Education
The Return to Sport (RTS) strategy is the pervasive rehabilitation strategy for concussed athletes (Patricios et al., 2023). While this strategy is valuable, limited attention is dedicated to psychosocial factors (Bloom et al., 2022) that may influence athletes’ recovery from sport-related concussion (SRC). Social support is a psychosocial factor that may benefit athletes’ SRC rehabilitation (Kita et al., 2020; van Ierssel et al., 2022) and athletes’ psychological readiness to RTS (Caron et al., 2022; Lassman et al., 2022). Understanding athletes’ perceptions of social support and its influence on their readiness during the Return to Sport (RTS) strategy may be beneficial. The purpose of this prospective explanatory-sequential mixed methods study was to explore university athletes’ lived experiences and perceptions of social support during the SRC RTS strategy, and whether this social support impacts (i.e., helps and/or hinders) the athletes’ return to sport. Nine concussed Canadian university athletes (n = 7 females, n = 2 males) completed a combination of concentric circles mapping (Van Waes & Van den Bossche, 2019), the Perceived Available Support in Sport Questionnaire (Freeman et al., 2011), and two semi-structured interviews. The number, frequency of occurrence, and importance of athletes’ social support agents were identified across athletes’ RTS. Social support types (i.e., emotional, esteem, informational, and tangible) provided by agents were identified across athletes’ RTS. Four higher-order themes (i.e., social support behaviours, contextual factors, concussion and RTS specific factors, and psychological readiness factors) were generated from athletes’ experience of social support across the RTS strategy. Our results suggest social support fluctuates throughout SRC rehabilitation by agent, support type, support behaviours, and RTS stage. Further, support decreases as athletes progress throughout the RTS strategy. Together, our findings provide preliminary evidence of complex contextual, concussion, and sport specific factors that influence concussed athletes’ perceptions of social support and its subsequent impact on their feelings of readiness to RTS.
Return to Sport , concussed athletes , university athletes , social supports , recovery