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Pia-Maria Wippert and Jens Wippert

Undesired career termination represents a critical life event for professional athletes. This study examined traumatic stress resulting from (a) a career-ending event and (b) the athlete’s separation from his or her social support network. Data were collected from 40 professional athletes who were members of the German National Ski Team, using standardized (Impact of Event Scale; Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale) and partially standardized (psychosomatic stress reaction) questionnaires. Correlations between the impact of termination and traumatic stress symptoms were observed over a period of 8 months. Athletes who experienced supportive termination (involving discussion with coaches) endorsed fewer symptoms than those who experienced socially disintegrative termination (lacking support of coaches). Nearly 20% of participants endorsed clinically relevant levels of traumatic stress at 3 and 8 months posttermination.

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Pia-Maria Wippert and Jens Wippert

As career termination is an incisive event in life, it is therefore important to understand the effects of different types of retirement on an athlete’s biography. Thus, the present longitudinal study is concerned with the effects of career termination of professional national team-athletes on the development of psychopathological symptoms, locus of control, self-concept, and mood, with special consideration of the mediator variable “subjective control of event-onset.” Data were collected from 42 professional athletes (17 of whom experienced an unexpected dismissal and 4 voluntarily retired) using standardized questionnaires (SCL-90-R, ASTS, FKK) 10 days before event entrance (baseline-test), 10 days after, 3 weeks after, and 5.5 months after onset of career termination. Although the baseline data did not reveal personality differences between the groups, dismissed athletes showed significantly stronger psychological distress after event onset. They displayed a stronger initial reaction, a more severe crisis, and longer transition periods than the control group. Results are discussed in connection with the combination of social evaluative threat and forced failure during event onset and their strong effects on distress after career termination.