What a difference a “Mentally Toughening” year makes: The acculturation of a rookie

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Objectives:This study investigated how one subculture's norms, traditions, ideals, and imperatives influenced the attitudes, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours of a young athlete (Joe) as he moved from resistance to acculturation.Design:Longitudinal case study of one athlete in one specific sport subculture.Method:Joe took part in five open-ended in-depth interviews over a 14-month period to investigate his experiences as an elite athlete within an Australian football team. Joe's story was analysed through an acculturation-process lens and models on mental toughness, overtraining, and stress-recovery to evaluate the indoctrination of one athlete.Findings:During the initial interviews Joe resisted the subculture demands of the football club and tried to find success by maintaining his own beliefs. By the end of the 14-month study Joe had realised that to be successful in the club he needed to embrace the norms, traditions, ideals, and imperatives of the football culture. Joe gained acceptance at the club when he eventually internalised the hypermasculine subculture and ignored injury, played in pain, subjugated his interests for football, and viewed physical abuse as a positive and necessary part of the toughening process.Conclusion:Joe's case study demonstrates that the subcultural ideals of mental toughness mean ignoring injury, playing in pain, denying emotion and vulnerability, and sacrificing individuality, which inevitably lead to stress/recovery imbalance and overtraining. In this subculture, demonstrating mental toughness is similar to a hypermasculine environment typified by slogans such as no-pain-no-gain and rest-is-for-the-dead where success is more important than individual wellbeing.HighlightsOne athlete's story reflected the fluidity of the acculturation process in elite sport.Internalising subcultural norms and behaviour demonstrated mental toughness.The roots of mental toughness may have more to do with sport cultures than personality.

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