Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Insights on the Process of Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis in a Sport Coaching Research Project

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Insights on the Process of Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis in a Sport Coaching Research Project

Article excerpt

Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is a qualitative approach to understanding participants' lived experiences in order to describe what a topic is like for them within a specific context (Larkin, Watts, & Clifton, 2008; Smith, 2004). However, IPA extends simple description and makes sense of participants' lived experiences by developing an interpretative analysis of the description in relation to social, cultural, and theoretical contexts. Thus, the analyst offers "an interpretative account of what it means for the participant to have such concerns within their particular context" (Larkin et al., 2008, p. 113). Insights and lessons learned about processes involved in IPA by a group of researchers exploring lived experiences of Masters athletes within coached environments may help advance this methodology within our field of research.

Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

IPA is informed by three key positions: phenomenology, hermeneutics, and idiography (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2013). Phenomenology describes the "what" and "how" of individuals' experienced phenomena, develops descriptions of the essences of experiences, but does not explain or analyze descriptions (Creswell, 2013). Hermeneutics is a theory of interpretation concerning textual meaning, as in the techniques used in speaking and writing that divulge the intentions and context of the speaker/writer (Smith et al., 2013). Finally, idiography relates to details and thorough analysis of small cases, which differs from mainstream psychologocial studies that are nomothetic in nature (Smith et al., 2013).

Smith (2004), a pioneer in IPA research in health psychology, noted that four key characteristics of IPA research stem from the three positions noted above. Firstly, IPA is idiographic because a detailed analysis of one case occurs before moving onto the next. Secondly, IPA is inductive, meaning research questions are broadly constructed to allow for unanticipated themes to emerge. Interplay between induction and deduction in data analysis may exist; however the inductive approach takes precedence. Thirdly, results are discussed using existing literature, creating an interrogative element. Finally, IPA researchers are influenced by their biographical backgrounds and knowledge of extant literature and must interpret data through their own lens when developing themes (Smith, 2004).

Larkin and colleagues (2008) recommend that researchers be open to adjusting their ideas and responsive to interpretations of data based on participants' responses. Researchers should understand that participants' experiences are within a specific context, which relates the person to the phenomena at hand (person-in-context) (Larkin et al., 2008). Aligning with an interpretative tradition, IPA includes a double hermeneutic: the researcher tries to make sense of the participant trying to make sense of their experiences (Smith, 2004; 2011). Readers interested in knowing more about the philosophical underpinnings and history of IPA development are referred to Smith (1996) and Smith and colleagues (2013).

Smith (2011) developed guidelines for judging the quality of IPA studies. He noted that IPA studies should have a clear focus that provides detail of a particular topic, the analysis should be descriptive and interpretative and include both convergence and divergence in themes, and papers should be carefully written to account for these guidelines. Although helpful, these guidelines specifically aid with assessing products of IPA research, and can only provide indirect judgment on the process of research (Smith, 2011). The process of IPA research, especially with regards to research in sport psychology and coaching, has not been clearly explored.

Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in Sport Studies

In a critical analysis of 293 IPA studies in health psychology between 1996 and 2008, Smith (2011) found only seven sport and exercise related studies using IPA methodology. …

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