• Caroline Veng Bjerregaard Madsen
  • Josefine Elisabeth Marker
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
“It hurts to be the best” is not a statement anyone would be surprised to hear from an elite athlete. The question is if this is only in terms of psychical pain or is there more to it in terms of mental strain on the individual.
This paper seeks to understand and investigate elite athlete’s experience in their sport. Firstly, an introduction that places the theme in its relevance will be presented. This will be followed by a delimitation of the field of study and end with a more precise formulation of the problem. The problem reads as followed:

“How do elite athletes experience navigating the field of tension between performance and their psychological health?”

Next, previous relevant research related to the problem is examined. Then the project’s scientific foundation will be reviewed, which is anchored in the phenomenological and hermeneutic approach. After this, the qualitative method used throughout the project is accounted for. Next, the different theoretical perspectives are being presented and explained. The theories are organized in such a way that firstly theories about handling pressure are presented. Thereafter, theories about stress are reviewed and lastly theories concerning the social context are explained.
Thereafter, an analysis of the informant’s statements is conducted and explained based on the theoretical foundation. The analysis is built around themes from the interviews with the use of the analytic method IPA where three head themes and seven sub themes were found.
All this leads to a discussion that is divided into different parts. First part is a discussion based on the methodological aspects in the project. Second part is a discussion about the findings and theory used in this assignment. This has led to an understanding of how the theories differ and where they complement each other. In this segment of the discussion aspect like optimizing and instrumentalization is furthermore discussed. The last part is a discussion concerning previous research and the findings in this project will be put into relevance of the existing research.
Put together, it is concluded that there are many ways that elite athletes experience to navigate between these sometimes contrast-filled aspects of performing and taking care of their own mental health. First, they experience that there has to be a balance between demands and the positive elements they receive from the sport. Furthermore, there has to be some sort of pressure to perform, and this can be seen as a motivator but on the other hand this pressure can also have negative consequences. Based on our four informants the findings suggest that they feel a big responsibility in terms of performing. When they don’t perform, the findings show that they blame themselves. This can put a strain on the ability to navigate between taking care of themselves and performing, why the experience to balance these is hard. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the staff and trainers of the athletes have an influence on the ability to perform which points to the context having a role in this field of tension. Lastly, we find that there is some sort of taboo in the world of sports in terms of talking about one’s feelings, as this is considered as being weak. All this put together shows a complex system that the athletes have to navigate in, and their experience is shaped by the consideration of both aspects – taking care of oneself and performing.
Publication date25 May 2022
Number of pages128
ID: 471355778