South African professional Super Rugby players’ lived experiences of career-related traumatic injuries: A descriptive phenomenological analysis


Background: Historically, non-career-ending traumatic rugby injury (TRI) has been viewed from a predominantly biological perspective. However, dimensional perspectives, such as the biopsychosocial model, have highlighted the need to incorporate psychosocial understandings of TRI into treatment plans.

Aim: To describe the lived experiences of a cohort of traumatically injured South African Super Rugby players in order to add to the body of literature on the subject of TRI experience.

Methods: The employment of a qualitative, descriptive phenomenological method was used to achieve the research outcome.

Discussion: Common descriptive themes indicated that TRI seems to exist within three stages: the initial, emotional and subsequent reactions to the traumatic injury. Sub-themes described within each stage included attempts at remaining positive and appraising the severity of the injury during onset, fear responses and concomitant feelings of loss related to foregone career opportunities during the emotional reactions stage, the employment of coping mechanisms, and relying on specific support structures during subsequent reactions. Two novel experiences revealed within this study and not reported in the international literature included the injured players’ reliance on compartmentalisation and positive religious belief structures as coping strategies. All themes were reduced to descriptive phenomenological essences that describe a lifeworld or biopsychosocial experience of TRI.

Conclusion: Themes drawn from this study can be applied in the future design and implementation of expanded studies and psychological interventions aimed at assisting traumatically injured rugby players during their recovery process. The identified themes affirm aspects from the international literature while highlighting some uniquely South African outcomes.

Author Biographies

Trevor Hall, Counselling Psychologist

Counselling Psychologist. Private Practice. The Crossing Kenilworth, Akeso Clinic. 38 Kenilworth Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town. 

Pieter Basson, University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Counselling Psychologist, Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Jhb, Aukland 

Park, Jhb. PhD.

Jon Patricios, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand.

Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician, Wits Sport and Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. MBBCh FFSEM (UK).

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