C03 Exploring boxers' experiences of fear using Reflexive Thematic Analysis: Fear can be a longtime companion, guide and motivator


  • Mathias Alberton St. Mary's University Twickenham




Injury, and the pain associated with it, are recurrent elements in boxing, differentiating it from other sports in that they expose the athlete to an unavoidable existential threat (Sarkar & Fletcher, 2014, J Sports Sci, 32). Limited literature exists on the experiences of fear within the context of sport and on how it differs from anxiety (Hanin, 2000, Emotions in Sport, Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics; Nicholls & Polman, 2007, J Sports Sci, 25, 11-31). This study used a reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006, Qual Res Psych, 3; Braun et al., 2016, in B. Smith & A. Sparks (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise (195-203). London, New York: Routledge) to investigate how the two concepts are different from one another and how they are made sense of among professional boxers. The living individual experiences of boxers facing these stressors qualified them to be suitable subjects to learn from on the topic through a generic qualitative interpretative approach (Smith & Sparks, 2016) underpinned by relativist ontology and constructivist epistemology (Sandberg, 2005, Org Res Meth, 8, 41-68). The analysis of sixteen podcasts (available online; Alberton, 2022, Martial Attitude Voice: Spotify), with professional boxers (male/female) of different weight divisions, produced four overarching themes: 1. Fear and anxiety go hand in hand; Although nuanced as different, they can be perceived as one, apprehensive anticipation of future protective reactions to an immediate direct threat. It is argued that this anxiety/fear fusion to be a novel kind of appraisal; 2. Fear keeps us alive; Fear was re-framed as intrinsic/extrinsic greater motivator, as the boxers described how it guided and enabled them to prepare for matches with discipline. Moreover, fear was depicted as a useful tool weaponized by the boxers, providing important feedback. 3. The fear of losing everything is right there in boxers’ faces; Fear of injury is theorized to be a pivotal stressor feeding fears of possible future disabilities or death, that is the ultimate failure in life as much as in the ring; 4. Coping with fear is to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Self-efficacy mediated structured resilience whilst discipline was the rationalized tool to withstand the emotional task of the physical fight. Fear as an inherent component of professional boxing is highlighted as important for policymaking, whilst alternative approaches could address present limitations. Theoretical/practical implications for future interventions bespoke to boxing is considered.

Author Biography

Mathias Alberton, St. Mary's University Twickenham

Presenting author Twitter/X handle: @mathiasattitude