Urheilujohdon eliittiin etenemisen kertomuksia. Kasvaen, ajautuen, sattumalta vai pyrkien? / The stories of becoming an elite sport manager in Finland

The purpose of this study was to examine the stories of Finnish sport managers: how their pathways to become sport managers had proceeded and what kinds of meanings and contents they constructed in their stories. In addition, one aim was to examine how the narrative method can be applied to sport management studies. This study included narrative interviews of 16 Finnish operational and governmental managers from the top of Finnish sport management – i.e. the elite. Twelve of them were male and four female, aged between 45–73 years.

Exploring sport managers’ interviews empirically by using the analysis of narratives (e.g. Greimas’s actantial model), 16 individual, unique narrative stories were constructed. Particular attention was paid to what the stories contained and how the interviewees told their stories in their own words. Furthermore, the modalities as well as what kinds and degrees of agency – strong or weak – sport managers constructed in their stories were examined.

From this data, four sport manager types: The Chosen, The Politician, The Sportsman and The Bureaucrat were discovered. On the basis of the stories’ plots, actions and events, four different story types were also perceived:  the story of growth, drifting, aspiration and the story of coincidence. Sport managers’ stories illustrated at the individual level how the sport managers’ careers were constructed, but they also reflected the social reality and the wider sociocultural context of Finnish sport management.

In the sport managers' stories, there were four factors that had played a central role in their pathways to become an elite sport manager. A role within sports seemed legitimising and dominant, even a norm. Politics appeared to work/have worked both for and against their progress to become an elite sport manager and, thus, aroused controversial feelings. Management and leadership skills were considered important in higher leadership positions but only a few of the interviewees legitimised themselves to their positions through them. Gender stood out in women's stories: it was regarded both as a helping and hindering factor in their careers. Hence, becoming a top sport manager is a multifaceted phenomenon and there are different individual factors that affect and direct their pathways.

This study shows that, despite the limitations of narrative research, it is a fruitful method for sport management studies. Qualitative research and a narrative approach can provide different perspectives and also give a deeper and better understanding of the individual’s experiences.


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City (for University):
University of Jyväskylä