Workshop: Athlete welfare


To mark the publication this year of “Life story research in sport: Understanding the lives of elite and professional athletes through narrative” we are holding four workshops that focus on elite and professional sport. These workshops make it possible to identify unique challenges practitioners and athletes face in different sport cultures and through presentations/workshop & informed discussion, to improve welfare strategies and research.  Details of the first workshop, along with presenters and schedule can be found below.  

The first workshop will be held at Clarke Willmott LLP, Bristol BS1 6BA on Monday 23 November 2015, from 10am – 4pm.  Map, booking below, outline, schedule and biographies of presenters below:

Insights from narrative research: Taking seriously transitions, welfare and identity development among professional and performance athletes.

Why would an athlete who has a new born baby, a loving husband, and a seemingly thriving sport career try to end her life by attempting suicide? Why might another successful athlete, who regularly wins international championships, experience life as a roller coaster, where mood swings cause them to self-harm?

This one-day workshop draws on recent research to explore motivation, mental health and well being among high performance athletes. As well as the above questions we explore why an athlete may cheat or break the rules and why some sports people might use performance-enhancing drugs even when they know they can be physically harmful? Drawing on research in a variety of sports including rugby, swimming, hockey, golf, track and field athletics, judo and rowing we explore how the culture of sport interacts with the mental health, values, aspirations, identity development, and life trajectories of high performance sports people in pressurised and sometimes unhealthy environments. By casting light on a previously under-researched, taboo or silenced aspect of sport the workshop provides a more comprehensive picture of the behind the scenes concerns of athletes, why transitions such as retirement can be so problematic, and why many athletes find it so difficult to talk about, ask for help or admit they may be experiencing fear, anxiety or depression. We make suggestions for how governing organisations might identify ‘at risk’ young athletes and provide strategies towards more comprehensive support.


Each member of our expert team are involved in researching different aspects of life in elite and professional sport and are committed to disseminating this research as a means of informing and improving welfare strategies. In alphabetical order our presenters for the day are:

Professor Susan Backhouse


Sue is an active researcher, applied practitioner, teacher and leads a team of researchers committed to the development of effective anti-doping policy and practice in the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Beckett University. She was the lead author on two World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) reports on the social science of doping, and prevention of doping through education. She also served as a member of the European Commission Ad-hoc expert group on the prevention of doping in recreational sport and played a lead role in the European Commission funded Study on Doping Prevention. She is the Education representative on the UK Athletics Anti-Doping Policy and Support Team Sport and a UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) National Trainer.

Her work is a mixture of both fundamental and applied research where she employs multi-method research approaches. Specific research interests include the social cognitive processes underlying the use of legal and illegal performance enhancing substances; anti-doping education; sporting integrity; social psychology of sport; behaviour change; positive youth development; athlete well-being.

Professor David Carless


David is a professor in the Research Institute of Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure at Leeds Beckett University. For two decades David has been conducting research into identity development and mental health in sport and physical activity settings. His work prioritizes developing rich understandings of different individual’s experiences through qualitative approaches such as narrative interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. Since 2000, David has worked in partnership with Kitrina Douglas researching both sides of the sport/mental health coin: the benefits of recreational physical activity and sport for people with diagnosed mental health problems and the threats to mental health of long-term involvement in elite and professional sport.

Across his research, David tries to use and develop accessible forms of presentation to enable the public to engage more fully with social science research that may be relevant to their lives. These approaches include arts-based and performative methodologies such as storytelling, songs, film, and live performance. David has shared his research internationally through numerous journal articles and invited book chapters; keynotes and conference presentations; audio CDs and films; lectures and CPD workshops. He is co-author, with Kitrina Douglas, of two books: Sport and Physical Activity for Mental Health (Wiley-Blackwell) and Life Story Research in Sport (Routledge).

Dr. Kitrina Douglas


Kitrina has been conducting research among professional sports people since 1999 when she first conducted research with Women Professional Golfers from the European Tour. It was this process, of conducting research in her own ‘back yard’, with people whom she knew, that led Kitrina to become more aware of how a researcher’s ‘history’, ‘background’ and existing sport networks/relationships can bring a number of unique benefits to a research project. The strengths and weaknesses of using ‘insider-researchers’ in professional sport is one of the key and unusual dimensions of her recent Life Story Research in Sport book with David Carless.

SInce completing her doctorate in 2004 Kitrina has carried out research for a variety of organisations including UK Sport, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, the Addiction Recovery Agency and the Department of Health. Broadly, her research explores how, as individuals, we develop a sense of identity and self through the culture that we are embedded in and stories that are available in this environment. As such, in sport contexts, while individual athletes have a degree of autonomy regarding who or what each wants to ‘become’, their lives, identity and self are very much embedded in, and a product of, stories from their community and what is valued/expected/promoted by those around them – the stories that are validated. It is often the disparity between what is ‘lived’ (personal experience of, for example, of retirement, injury, or deselection) and the story an athlete is ‘supposed to tell’  (which may be very different to what he or she experiences and expected) that cause tension and lie at the root of some of the mental health difficulties that many athletes experience. Understanding the impact of stories, therefore, has important implications for practitioners, athletes and their families.

In 2014 Kitrina was awarded Leeds Beckett University Researcher of the year.

Sport background: Kitrina played Professional Golf between 1984-1996. During this time she became one of Europe’s most respected tour players, winning a dozen tour events, was Rookie of the Year, twice European Masters Champion, English Open Champion, winner of the Hennessy Women’s Cup and played on the first winning European Solheim Cup Team. Between taking-up golf, at 17-years of age, and turning professional at 23, Kitrina won the Scottish Girls, Portuguese and British Amateur Championships, represented Great Britain in the Vagliano Trophy and Curtis Cup and England in U23’s and Ladies European Championships and Home Internationals.

She worked for the BBC’s award winning Radio Five Live outside broadcasting for a decade before completing first a BSc(Hons) Exercise & Sport Science and then a PhD, where she explored ‘Motivation and Persistence in Women Professional Tour Golfers’.

Since 2012 Kitrina has also been a member of the National Anti-Doping Panel for sport, where she sits as an expert panel member to hear appeals brought by athletes who have been banned  following an Adverse Analytic Finding for a banned substance.

Kelsey Erikson


Kelsey Erickson is a final year PhD student, Research Assistant and Part-Time Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University (UK). Her principal research interest is the use of performance enhancing substances (PES) within sport, while her PhD focus is on exploring the interplay between risk and protective factors amongst cross-national (UK and US) university level track and field athletes with regards to performance enhancing methods in sport.

As such, her programme of research is being partially funded by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Following the completion of her PhD, Kelsey will be commencing a two-year postdoctoral research position funded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in cooperation with Leeds Beckett University. The project, an extension of her doctoral research, will involve designing and implementing an intervention to promote clean sport within university student-athlete populations.

Schedule and timings for the day

10:00 Registration and coffee
10:30 Welcome address Dr Kitrina Douglas: ‘Why are athletes still experiencing transition traumas? Does leaving sport have to be painful? How can we help?’
10:45 Presentation: ‘The potential of stories to support identity development, motivation and well being of professional sports people across the sport career’ Professor David Carless & Dr Kitrina Douglas
11:15-12:15 Workshop One: Organisational responsibility: Identifying your stories?
12:15-12:30 Feedback from each group & discussion
12:30-1:30 Lunch and networking
1:30-2:00 Presentation: ‘It’s not just about performance: a different story about doping in sport?’ Professor Sue Backhouse & Kelsey Erickson
2:00-3:00 Workshop two: ‘Your role in supporting healthier choices, transitions, & motivations’
3:00-3:15 Refreshment break
3:00-4:00 Feedback from groups and final questions                           


Booking details

Course fee includes: morning coffee afternoon tea, lunch, research papers and notes
Book on-line using paypal link below or download booking form and post with your payment.
Places are limited and allocated on a first come first serve basis.
Full terms and conditions are available here
Course fee £140

Finding the venue


Book your place – Bristol workshop

Book your place – York workshop

Life story research in sport: Understanding the lives of elite and professional athletes through narrative.

Kitrina Douglas & David Carless
Available from Amazon £85 Kindle £81
During the workshop 20% discount £68

What is life really like for the elite athlete? How does the experience of being a professional sports person differ from the popular perceptions of fans, journalists or academics? Drawing on psychology, sociology, counselling, psychotherapy and narrative theory, and on narrative research in sports as diverse as golf, rugby, cricket, track and field athletics, judo and hockey, the Kitrina Dougalas and David Carless explore the ways in which the culture of sport interacts with the mental health, development, identity and life trajectories of high performance sports people in pressurised and sometimes unhealthy environments. By casting light on a previously under-researched aspect of sport, the authors call for strategies to be put in place to minimise difficulties or distress for athletes, and for support to be tailored across the different life phases.