Desired and received social support following a sport-related concussion: Discrepancies between student-athletes and their social network


Researchers have noted social support can help mitigate psychosocial consequences (depression, isolation) of sport-related concussion (SRC). However, it is not clear how social support is communicated to and interpreted by student-athletes. This qualitative study attempted to better understand the interactions between student-athletes with SRCs and their social support network. Through the lens of an interpretivist paradigm (relativist ontology, subjective epistemology), we conducted two semi-structured interviews with cheerleading, rugby, and soccer student-athletes (n = 4, M = 21.75 years), who experienced SRC symptoms for three to 12 months. We also interviewed 2-3 members of each athlete's social support network (n = 10, partners, parents, friends). We used a reflexive thematic analysis to interpret the interview data. We found discrepancies between desired and received social support, which adversely impacted athletes' recovery. Athletes expressed being dissatisfied with the social support they received from friends, which included feeling pressure to attend social gatherings and feeling as though they were being criticized for their changing and irritable mood throughout SRC recovery. Some athletes also mentioned they felt pressure from their parents to avoid returning to sport following SRC. From the perspective of athletes' social support networks, most indicated not knowing how to provide effective social support, which also appeared to stem from a lack of knowledge about the injury and recovery process. These results provide some insight into social support interactions following SRC. Members of the sport environment must be educated about SRCs, including how to effectively communicate with and support student-athletes during their recovery.