J32 ‘Hanging up the boots, picking up the whistle’: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of the player-to-coach transition in elite football


  • Laura Mills Liverpool John Moores University




Athletes encounter a complex decision-making process when it comes to their athletic retirement. While some athletes step away from their sport entirely, others opt to pursue a coaching career within it. Recent pedagogical research has revealed the ubiquitous nature of this phenomenon within the elite academy setting. However, despite the prevalence of this coaching pathway, there remains a lack of literature concerning this unique career transition within sports psychology. By providing nuanced and textured accounts of the transition from athletic retirement to the elite coaching environment, this study sought to broaden our understanding of the lived-experience of the player-turned-coach in elite football. The subsequent study used semi-structured interviews and interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to collect and analyse the first-hand accounts of elite academy coaches who were former professional footballers in the EPL and EFL. Interpretation of the coaches’ own sensemaking allowed us to derive meaning through hermeneutic methods based on Heideggerian philosophical traditions, while convergent and divergent themes were revealed by applying an idiographic approach. The phenomenological, hermeneutic, and idiographic aspects of this investigation serve to underpin the epistemological and ontological tenets of the methodology applied in this study. IPA was chosen as a means of better understanding the perspective of coaches who have experienced this unique journey and how they navigated the re-negotiation of their athletic identity whilst simultaneously developing their coaching philosophy. Phenomenological methods view the participant as the “expert”; therefore, no hypothesis is required. However, we hoped to ascertain: [1] how the athletic identity carries over into coaching philosophy; [2] whether this linear transition mitigates the sense of loss often associated with athletic retirement; [3] how returning to coach at the club in which they developed influences the independent formation of beliefs and practices; and [4] whether there is a risk of perpetuation of practice, as clubs favour their former players over outside candidates. This study sought to understand the lived experience of the player-to-coach transition and aimed to provide insight into this process to better facilitate the athletes and coaches on either side of this phenomenon.

Author Biography

Laura Mills, Liverpool John Moores University

Presenting author Twitter/X handle: @laurameme