Research Handbook of Employment Relations in Sport
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Research Handbook of Employment Relations in Sport

Edited by Michael Barry, James Skinner and Terry Engelberg

Employment relations, much discussed in other industries, has often been neglected in professional sports despite its unique characteristics. The book aims to explore in detail the unique nature of the employment relationship in professional sports and the sport industry.
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Chapter 10: The game of (your) life: professional sports careers

Christine Coupland


So much has been written about sport and people’s engagement with it that it makes it difficult to know where to begin to draw together some strands for future potential researchers. The study of sports careers has attracted scholars from anthropology, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and medicine who are keen to explore and explicate the workings of sport from almost as many perspectives as there are people interested in it. With this plethora of possible avenues for research, in order to achieve any depth, some decisions have had to be made on the focus for this chapter. As the title suggests, I have decided to discuss the careers of sports professionals, such as those athletes who have for a period of time made a living from their sports craft; in particular, I will discuss the early and often abrupt end of the sports career and the need for transition. This firmly locates our interest in the notion of sport as work. Taking this focus enables us to apply and discuss career theories that have emanated from studies of the intersection of the individual and the institution of work and apply them to professional sports careers. There are strong arguments that support the notion that professional sport is more like work and less like play or leisure. Simply demonstrated, performance is publically measured, penalties occur if ability fades, routines and practices are determined by others, and contracts of employment depend on performance (Coupland, 2015). Although there is no agreement on a common definition of career, a recent review of the literature provided the following comprehensive description: “an individual’s work-related and other relevant experiences, both inside and outside of organizations that form a unique pattern over the individual’s life span” (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009, p. 1543). Physical movement across and within real or imagined boundaries and contexts and the individual’s interpretation thereof are recognized by this definition.

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