'An ontology of Being through a sporting life – How might one live well?'

Massaro, Daniel (2022) 'An ontology of Being through a sporting life – How might one live well?'. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Digital ID: http://doi.org/10.17030/uclan.thesis.00047161


My professional life has been one of coaching my wife on a world tour, helping professional sports performers with psychological support and lecturing sports coaching on degree programmes. This immersion made clear a contrast between the felt ‘lived life’ of coaching and performing, with the abstract rationality of thematic explanations about what coaching and performing is often proposed to be. In this regard the main methodological aim of this research is to reveal how both a ‘emic epistemological’ approach to living ‘inside’ a professional sporting life may be bridged and blended with an ‘etic epistemological’ view of sport from the outside of lived experience, to form a substantial broader ontological and philosophical perspective of how one might live well through it.

I utilised existential phenomenology and Heideggerian Ontology as means of recovering a more substantial understanding of a ‘lived in’ sporting life and presented it through four distinct Dialogues. Each Dialogue includes reflexive commentary and data analysis, providing different roles of purpose in contribution to the overall theme. Methods used were Socratic Dialogue based narrative-fiction, Historical diary-analysis, Phenomenological anecdotes & Autophenomenography. “Getting back to the things themselves” (Husserl) resulted in ‘thick, rich descriptions of the more’ of my own lived experiences, a world class renowned coach of 35 years’ experience and two former world number one performers.
The initial dialogue, which forms the basis for the subsequent three, incorporates the thinking of five existential-phenomenologists (Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Simone DeBeauvoir, Martin Heidegger) and the ideas presented infiltrate and scaffold the subsequent dialogues and the data within. Ideas presented by these thinkers and the way in which I began to understand philosophy as an activity of concept creation (Deleuze), led me to forge the key question of ‘How might one live well through a sporting life?’ as opposed to my original thrust of ‘How to live well through a sporting life?’ The question of how one might live well, opens room for emic ontological enquiry and existential complexities of emergent life. There is less rush towards the need for certainty or neatly summarised conclusions that can be linked to the business minded practice of selling solutions for profit. Habits to over reduce ambiguities and complexities experienced through a sporting career are in line with existential themes of bad faith, responsibility of freedom, absurdity, and modes of being such as ‘the serious man’. As example I illustrate the differences between the assumptions and connotations of the term ‘athlete wellbeing’ and the more philosophical consideration ‘how one might live well?’

Conclusions drawn are that an existential phenomenological approach to understanding the complexities and pre separated multiplicity of an unfolding becoming during a competitive sporting career, is beneficial for coaches and performers. The methodologies applied and consequent thematic data explored are recommended for use in coach/performer education. This in line with existing coaching literature of person-centred coaching (Carl Rogers, John Whitmore) and as a way of accessing individual experience in a more substantial and meaningful (to both performer and coach) interactive process. Phenomenology has capacity to bring alive the ordinary and, in this respect, create wonder where it may have been forgotten or just unnoticed. Ontologically, a sporting life lived permanently well may be hard to come by, but it is possible to remain buoyant through it all if one can cope with and embrace the responsibilities of ‘being here in the world’. This takes a continual taking part in one’s daily existence, one’s own thrownness, not only with the sport itself but with one’s own historical, current, and future perceptions of ‘my existence’. It is recommended that both emic and etic investigations can form a useful bridge for a richer understanding of the psychology associated with living sporting lives.

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