Becoming a sports physiotherapist in elite sport
: Knowing how to thrive; Continuing professional learning stories of experienced sports physiotherapists who work in elite sport

  • Colin Paterson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Both professional learning literature and physiotherapy specific literature emphasise the
use of a wide variety of learning experiences and that professional learning is context
dependent. Literature also indicates working in elite sport is pressured, stressful, and
requires physiotherapists to work in performance-focused contexts and with a variety of
multidisciplinary team members. However, there is a paucity of research focused on sports
physiotherapists’ continuing professional learning (CPL), and in the elite sport context
specifically, despite regulatory requirements for ongoing learning for registration.

This interpretive narrative inquiry recruited five experienced sports physiotherapists
working in elite sport in the UK. Multiple online interviews were conducted with each
participant prior to a two-stage narrative analysis process. Stage 1 analysis produced an
interpreted narrative core story for each participant. Stage 2 analysis involved
cross participant narrative thematic analysis. Dewey’s (1938/97) theory of experience
was used as a theoretical lens for the study.

“Becoming a sports physiotherapist in elite sport; knowing how to thrive” was interpreted
as the shared overarching plot of the participants’ stories. Five narrative themes were
interpreted which weaved and interacted uniquely for each of the participants: multiple
motivations for learning; learning in multiple ways; developing a sports physiotherapy
toolbox to perform; challenges of elite sport; and navigating time and space. This study’s
original sports physiotherapy-specific findings highlight that sports physiotherapists’ CPL
was an ongoing process over their careers, used a variety of learning experiences, had
multiple motivations driving it, and adapted to context-specific factors. Participants
described their sports physiotherapist toolboxes as containing a variety of knowledge
types, with non-propositional knowledge being interpreted as facilitating their practice
know-how. Situated learning, in context, was critical for learning to cope and thrive in the
elite sport context. The original findings stress the need for sports physiotherapists to be
supported and have the time and space to learn in different ways. The findings have
implications for sports physiotherapists and those responsible for CPL provision
and CPL frameworks.

Date of AwardJun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorJools Page (Supervisor) & Helen Fiddler (Supervisor)

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