Looking to the past to understand the present: organizational change in varsity sport

Daniel Parker, Gina Grandy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – This paper aims to explore how varsity football athletes and coaches negotiate meanings when faced with the unmet expectations of a new head coach brought into lead a turnaround process. It also aims to pay particular attention to the role of history in this meaning making process. Design/methodology/approach – This paper draws on semi-structured interviews with players and coaches at two points in time. To preserve the richness of their experiences and illuminate the historical aspects of change, it focuses on the stories of three players and one supporting coach. Findings – Numerous symbols of change emerge that have multiple and contradictory meanings. The meanings around success and failure are renegotiated over time as individuals struggle with the unmet expectations of change. Moreover, individuals are unable to shed the failures of the past and move forward. Practical implications – Change is a complex and messy process of managing multiple meanings. Understanding change entails more than a snapshot picture of an organization. New leaders have no control over the past, yet they need to be aware of how individuals experienced the past in order to increase the likelihood of success in the present. Originality/value – Success and failure are experienced as an ongoing process as athletes and coaches experience, reflect on and interact with others. In illuminating the role of history in how change is experienced in the present, the paper demonstrates that the past can serve as both an immobilizing force, as well as a comparative point enabling individuals to rationalize their emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-254
JournalQualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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