It's not what you know, but who you know: Exploring the key support networks facilitating the transition into adapted sport participation


Background: Despite the increasing societal acceptance of adapted sport as a beneficial form of physical activity for overall well-being, many individuals with a physical disability lack the social support necessary for participation in adapted sport. Objective: This exploratory study applied aspects of the Social Cognitive Theory to develop a theoretical understanding of how pre- and post- injury sport experiences and social support facilitated positive self-identities and participation in adapted sports following rehabilitation. Methods: Using a symbolic interactionist framework, this study utilized a constructivist grounded theory methodology to explore the participant’s own perceptions of their social experiences that contributed to positive attitudes and expectations, and enhanced opportunities and knowledge to engage in adapted sport. Data was collected from 11 semi-structured interviews with individuals who 1) sustained a physical disability following a traumatic injury (Mage = 28.36; 63.63% males; Myears post injury = 11.27), and 2) were currently participating in a team or individual-based sport. All participants (82% active pre-injury) reported being initially exposed to sport-specific clubs post-injury. Results: The analysis uncovered three social support groups - parents, peers, and coaches – as the driving forces for individuals’ adjustment to their physical disability and engagement in adapted sport. Parental support pre-injury was commonly attributed to athletic identity maintenance and positive attitudes towards sport after acquiring a disability. Peer and coach support were influential post-injury in enhancing opportunities, knowledge and positive expectations in engaging in sport through verbal persuasion and vicarious experiences. Conclusion: Parents, peers, and coaches appear to be influential support networks whom facilitate increased self-efficacy for sport participation and success post-injury. These study findings lead to further inquiry into the role of social support networks, particularly peer mentorship, in addressing common barriers to increased sport performance, such as adapted sport equipment availability and funding.