Meaning and Spirituality in Sport and Exercise: Psychological Perspectives (2018, Routledge)

By Noora J Ronkainen & Mark S Nesti

Meaning and Spirituality in Sport and Exercise: Psychological Perspectives examines the many various types of meaning and spirituality in sport using an interdisciplinary (yet predominantly a psychological) perspective.

Based on the latest research and Mark’s experience in applied sport psychology service delivery, we cover a range of novel topics such as, the relationship between meaning and motivation, the obsession with health in exercise culture, and different metaphors of an athlete’s career.

We also link meaning and spirituality to athlete development, injury, and ageing athletes.

The book offers applied, practical guidance for sport psychology practitioners working with athletes for whom spirituality is an important part of their lives.

Offering a unique contribution to the study of meaning and spirituality in sport and exercise, and to sport psychology practice, the book aims to be an inspirational reading for any student or academic working in sport and exercise psychology, sociology of sport, or the philosophy of sport, and any practising sport psychology consultant.

Beyond Health and Happiness: An Exploratory Study into the Relationship between Craftsmanship and Meaningfulness of Sport

Ronkainen, N. J., McDougall, M., Tikkanen, O., Feddersen, N., & Tahtinen, R. (2020). Sociology of Sport Journal.

Available at:

In this research, we wanted to explore the relationship between craftsmanship and meaningful sport, and to gain some initial understandings of what demographic variables correlate with craftsmanship and meaningfulness.

We recruited a diverse sample of athletes, from recreational to elite levels in the UK (N=258, 61.6% male, age ≥18) to fill in a demographic questionnaire, the Work and Meaning Inventory (Steger, Dik, & Duffy, 2012) we modified for sport, and the recently developed Craftsmanship Scale (Thorlindsson, Halldorsson, & Sigfusdottir, 2018).

We found that older age and individual sport significantly correlated with higher scores of craftsmanship.

On the other hand, craftsmanship and religion were two independent predictors of meaningfulness but emphasised partly different meaning dimensions.

Both craftsmanship and religion were significant predictors of the Positive Meaning subscale (i.e., athletic career is experienced as meaningful and sport is felt to contribute to life meaning).

However, only craftsmanship was a significant predictor of the Meaning Making Through Work subscale (i.e., personal growth, self-understanding, understanding of the world).

And moreover, only religion predicted the Greater Good Motivations subscale (i.e., serving a greater purpose and making a positive difference in the world through sport).

Our findings can be interpreted to indicate that, on one hand, meaningfulness in sport is related to how athletes approach their craft (i.e., adopting a craftsmanship approach), and on the other hand, on participants’ overall framework of life meaning (i.e., beliefs and values such as those brought by religion).

‘Don’t ever mix God with sports’: Christian religion in athletes’ stories of life transitions

Ronkainen, N. J., Ryba, T. V., & Tod, D. (2020). Sport in Society.

Researchers seeking to understand athletes’ lives and how they respond to life and career transitions have increasingly recognized the need for adopting a holistic perspective.

This includes religion and spirituality as important frameworks of meaning that shape athletes’ lives.

We explored how religion influenced two athletes’ journeys in sport and their experiences of life transitions.

We are thankful to two Christian elite athletes who shared their life stories with us.

We drew on Saroglou’s (2011) framework of The Big Four Religions Dimensions – believing, bonding, behaving, and belonging – and used narrative analysis to make sense of the stories (see picture).

Both participants separated religious belief and God from sport.

One of them told us: ‘My dad always told me, “don’t ever mix God with sports”, “don’t ever ask God to help you on the ice – he’s got way more important things to think about than you doing good in sports”’.

However, religion, as a source of basic world assumptions and values, provided a broader framework of meaning and continuity in these athletes’ lives.

They felt it was important to follow the Christian ethic, in and out of the sporting arenas.

Religion also helped the athletes to remember that ultimately, sport is ‘just’ sport.

Their sense of self-worth was not exclusively tied to whether they succeed in sport or not.

Yet, both stories involved a growing distance to institutional religious practices as the athletes moved towards individualized religiosity in their journey through cultural
and developmental transitions.

For coaches, sport psychology practitioners and others involved in supporting athletes in their journeys, it is important to be aware of the unique and individual ways in which religion influences athletes lives.

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