In this research, we explore the ways in which Finnish endurance athletes construct and negotiate meanings in athletic career and retirement. Career studies in occupational psychology suggest that existential concerns can play a vital role in people’s career choices and transitions (Mcmorland & Lips-Wiersma 2006); yet an existential framework has rarely been utilized in athletic career research. Existential psychology places the questions of meaning, choice, responsibility, authenticity, finitude and loneliness at the center of human existence. It has the potential to provide insights into how athletes bring meaning to critical situations in sports, such as injuries, overtraining, burnout, aging and retirement. Moreover, it acknowledges that spirituality can be a major source of meaning in some athletes’ lives (Nesti 2011). For this study, life story interviews were conducted with 10 male elite runners and/or orienteers to understand how their narrations about career, key events in sport and life and perceptions of successes and failures are permuted with their personal values and cultural worldviews. Exploring personal narratives is informative, because they also reveal how cultural master narratives (dominant sociocultural forms of interpretation) influence the ways in which people render events meaningful. From a narrative perspective, it has been acknowledged that the performance narrative dominates competitive sports (Carless & Douglas 2009). This narrative, emphasizing single-minded dedication from the athlete, is potentially problematic in boundary situations such as injuries and retirement. Our analysis revealed that most athletes narrated performance-oriented stories from their youth, but some re-evaluated meaning in sport when facing boundary situations such as injury or physical decline. The ways in which athletes constructed narratives about sport participation and the experience of aging significantly impacted the quality of their transition out of top level and how they related to sport after that. We suggest that the existential-narrative approach has high potential for consultation with athletes in career crises and transitions, where the consultant can help the athlete to explore alternative narratives to find new meaning in these possibly challenging situations.
culture; existential-narrative approach; Finnish endurance athletes; meaning