Is timelining the future of studying the past? Lessons learned from using timelining to study athletes' lived experiences with sport-related concussions


There is an overreliance on single session, individual interviews within qualitative sport psychology research (McGannon et al., 2019). "Timelining" is a qualitative method that can provide both chronological and descriptive context to participant experiences (Sheridan et al., 2011). For researchers studying athletes' lived experiences with sport-related concussions, an invisible injury that involves cognitive and psychosocial decrements as well as an uncertain length of recovery, timelining offers a practical strategy to gain a detailed understanding of athletes' complex experiences with concussions. We explored one researcher and two participants' experiences using timelining in the context of a study on concussion rehabilitation. Several methods were used to collect data. First, the researcher and the two participants each completed a two-page reflective journal (i.e., utility of timelining in recalling events, eliciting thoughts and emotions). Second, the researcher engaged in a 60-minute semi-structured interview with a critical friend to reflect on their experiences administering the timelines. Third, a 90-minute focus group interview explored the researcher and participants' collective experiences timelining. Data were analyzed using an inductive reflexive thematic analysis. Participants used external resources (i.e., texts, emails, medical notes) when timelining, which they felt enhanced their ability to recall experiences, provide context, and reflect on their rehabilitation as a whole. However, participants noted that the researcher's presence during the timelining activity and a lack of records (dates, times), led to some uncertainty when engaging in timelining. Despite some limitations, our results suggest that timelining can help qualitative researchers ascertain a more detailed understanding of past experiences.