This study presents the case of a male university basketball player who died of a heart attack caused by an abnormal heart rhythm (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome) and describes the various emotional stages his teammates and coaches experienced during the days and months following this tragic incident. The team’s emotional responses to their teammates’ sudden death were categorized into several stages: shock, confusion, and denial; performance resolve; realization of loss; glorification and memorialization; closure and relief; avoidance and debriefing; reentry and acceptance. A modified critical incident stress debriefing process was used by educational and clinical sport psychologists who collaborated to manage and provide care-giving services to team members and coaches.
Ralph A. Vernacchia and David P. Templin are both with the Department of Physical Education, Health, and Recreation at Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9067. James P. Reardon is with the Columbus Traumatic Stress Center, Columbus, OH 43215.