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Analysing Career Paths in Parasport: A Survey with Brazilian Para-athletes
Book Contribution - Book Chapter Conference Contribution
Aim The development of Paralympic athletes’ pathways is potentially impairment-specific driven (Patatas, De Bosscher, & Legg, 2018). However, it is unclear to what degree an impairment-specific approach may exert an influence on how the phases of para athletes pathways differ from one type of disability to another. Furthermore, another detected gap in the literature is the lack of knowledge on the extent to which the severity of impairment (i.e., the classification in which an athlete will be allocated in a sport-specific system) influences the para-athletes’ progression through the phases and can lead to success. This study aims to identify the characteristics of the development of para-athletes’ sporting careers such as the influence of the origin of the impairment (i.e., acquired and congenital) and the sport-specific classification, to understand how these factors can influence para-sporting success in Brazil. As such, this paper responds to the need for researching para-athlete development while considering the context in which parasport operates (Patatas, De Bosscher, De Cocq, Jacobs, & Legg, 2019). Introduction The able-bodied sports literature has copiously described the continuum of athletic development, from initiation of fundamental movement skills through proficiency at an elite level (Sotiriadou & De Bosscher, 2017). The substantial theoretical and empirical literature has been exploring the different processes, phases, and transitions faced by non-disabled elite athletes (Dehghansai, Lemez, Wattie, & Baker, 2017). However, research that has focused on the development of athletes with a disability and their pathway to expertise has been lacking considerably. As a result, evidence on the developmental trajectories of para-athletes is necessary to examine the critical determinants of para-sporting success (Dehghansai et al., 2017). Methodology A sample of 345 active Brazilian para-athletes (248 males and 97 females) with ages varying between 14 and 61 years (M = 33,35; SD = 10,545) participated in the study via an online survey. The inclusion criteria were ‘being para-athlete with acquired or congenital impairment eligible to compete at the Paralympic Games’ and ‘have participated in at least one official competition of their respective sport’. The respondents represented 15 different sports: boccia (N = 14), football-7-a-side (N = 13), judo (N = 10), athletics (N = 75), canoeing (N = 14), cycling (N = 29), shooting (N = 11), swimming (N = 68), triathlon (N = 17), powerlifting (N = 25), sitting volleyball (N = 12), table tennis (N = 13), wheelchair basketball (N =20), wheelchair fencing (N = 13), and wheelchair tennis (N = 11). The survey consisted of 37 questions regarding para-athlete career development, trajectory, and milestones. The descriptive data and multiple regression analyses mainly focused on comparing para-athlete pathways based on (1) competition level (national, continental, and international), (2) origin of impairment (acquired or congenital), and (3) severity of impairment (higher or lower classification). Results The overall results showed that athletes with congenital impairments achieve milestones related to success earlier than athletes with acquired impairments (M=26,10 and M=33,51). This is possibly due to their age when starting parasport participation, which is younger for athletes with congenital impairments (M=19 and M= 27,7). However, interestingly, for athletes with an acquired impairment, all phases of the career pathway are slightly shorter (in years) compared to the athletes with congenital impairments. Meaning that due to the remained motor skills from previous sport experiences before the injury, the athletes with acquired impairment stay longer at the top, maintaining longer careers, but spending less time in each phase. Concerning success, athletes with congenital impairment with higher classification (less severe impairment) appeared to be more successful than athletes with an acquired impairment. As athletes with a congenital impairment may have more chances to become successful, it is recommended that national sports federations should be strategic in talent identification at a younger age for this group. Regarding the influence of classification in obtaining success, 51,3% of the sample perceived that the classification had an impact on their para-athletes’ career trajectory. Conclusion The results of this study provide more detailed insights in how the para-athletes’ pathways are currently developed and allow to assist on how to better recruit successful athletes with a disability in the context of parasport in Brazil. Hence, insights into understanding the particularities of para-athletes’ pathways on an impairment-specific level, may allow sports managers to challenge their high-performance strategies and enable informed future investment and resource allocation decisions. Given the sports careers that tend to last longer for athletes with an acquired impairment and the more chances of developing success for athletes with congenital impairments, active athletes in both categories may have different and specific needs to be successful. The latter suggests that it may be of importance, in order to obtain success, to approach these as distinct categories. Key stakeholders can use the results of this study to successfully identify and develop talented para-athletes to contribute to more medal-winning performances in parasport.
Book: The 27th European Sport Management Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science . In T. Breitbarth, G. Bodet, A.F. Luna, P. Naranjo & G. Bielons (Eds.), The 27th European Sport Management Conference: Connecting Sport Practice and Science, Book of Abstracts. (pp. 688-689). Seville: European Association for Sport Management.