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A holistic perspective on the vocational development of active and former elite athletes

Boek - Dissertatie

In the past five decades, European and international sports policy has increasingly recognised the importance of elite athletes’ holistic development (e.g., Lyons & van Gerven, 2021; Stambulova & Wylleman, 2019). This means that elite athletes develop not only on an athletic level throughout their sporting career, but also in other areas of life. Specifically, Wylleman (2019a) describes in the Holistic Athletic Career (HAC) model that talented and elite athletes develop – in addition to the athletic level – on five other levels, namely the psychological, psychosocial, academic/vocational, financial, and legal level. The increased interest in the holistic development of talented and elite athletes has led researchers to delve extensively into this topic to better understand athletes’ career development and the transitions athletes go through (Stambulova et al., 2020). However, where most levels of development in the context of athletes’ career development and transitions have been examined in detail, so far only limited attention has been paid to athletes’ vocational development. Yet, many elite athletes choose to combine their sporting career with a parallel vocational career and/or engage in a new vocational career upon athletic retirement. Previous studies on athletes’ vocational development mainly approached it in the context of the transition out of elite sport. Although opening the pathway for an initial identification of athletes’ challenges, barriers, and resources in their vocational development, those studies neglected phases before and after athletic retirement. However, to gain a complete, empirical, and conceptual understanding of athletes’ vocational development, research (e.g., B-WISER, 2018; Reints, 2011) recommended a general, temporal (i.e., phase-like) approach covering both pre- and post-retirement phases. Given the undisputed conceptualisations in career development and transition research (i.e., HAC model, ACT model, HEA approach), it is believed that across those pre and post-retirement phases, individual (e.g., internal resources) and environmental (e.g., flexible support environments) determinants should be considered (Henriksen, 2010; Stambulova, 2003; Wylleman, 2019a). Hence, the aim of this PhD was to explore athletes’ vocational development and employability from a competence and environmental approach across three consecutive career phases: the active phase (i.e., when athletes are still active in elite sport), the retirement phase (i.e., when athletes have ended their elite sporting career and are not yet in a new vocational career), the new career phase (i.e., when athletes are in a new vocational career). To achieve this aim, four studies –using both qualitative and quantitative research methods – were conducted. STUDY 1 was situated within the active phase of athletes’ vocational development and took an environmental approach. As shown in the Holistic Athletic Career (HAC) model (Wylleman, 2022), athletes’ educational development forms the basis to proceed into vocational development. Recognizing the relevance of a DC elite sport and education for further vocational development (e.g., Wylleman, 2019), STUDY 1 involved a case study of a Flemish dual career ‘elite sport and study’ development environment. The case study was guided by the holistic ecological approach (Henriksen, 2010) and its two working models (i.e., DCDE and Dual Career Environment Success Factors model DC-ESF, adapted from the Athletic Talent Development Environment ATDE and ESF model; Ecology of Dual Careers ECO-DC, 2019; Henriksen, 2010). Using this approach and its models, data collection included four observations, 23 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in the DCDE (e.g., athletes, coaches, educators), and analysis of documents (e.g., course material, webpage information). Key features of the environment under study that facilitated athletes’ (vocational) development included a holistic structure and a shared philosophy among stakeholders. Specific facilitators found for athletes to foster their vocational development were, amongst others, cross-domain efforts through dedicated and competent support providers, a modular and flexible DC system, access to and proximity of high-quality school, sport and housing facilities, and opportunities for athletes to develop competencies. On the other hand, a few factors within the studied DCDE may hinder athletes’ vocational development. For example, the incompatibility of certain study topics and a DC may conflict with athletes’ interests and preferred study choices or vocational pathways. The overview of key features and facilitating and hindering factors can be useful for practitioners to enrich their awareness of athletes’ environment and to optimise their DCDE and support. STUDY 2 aimed at developing and initially validating an instrument that measures the competencies of elite athletes needed to optimise their employability across three consecutive career phases. Specifically, the first part of the study described the development of the Athlete Competency Questionnaire for Employability (ACQE). The second part of the study examined the factor structure of the ACQE using exploratory structural equation modelling (ESEM). To this end, the ACQE was administered to 954 European elite athletes from six different countries and within three different career phases (i.e., active phase, retirement phase, new career phase). ESEM supported an ACQE with 28 items (i.e., skills, attitudes, knowledge) within four competencies, namely Career & Lifestyle Management, Career Communication, Career Resilience and Career Engagement & Flexibility. Building on the findings of STUDY 2, the aim of STUDY 3 was to identify the extent to which elite athletes from different career phases possess the four competencies of the ACQE. Furthermore, we investigated which competencies elite athletes perceive as giving them a competitive advantage on the job market (i.e., compared to employees without sporting background). Interindividual differences for gender, type of sport and career phase were considered for both their perceptions of possession and competitive advantage of competencies. Findings showed that, on average, the 954 elite athletes reported an average to good possession of the four competencies with room for further development and optimisation. Gender comparison showed significant differences between male and female athletes. Male athletes reported a stronger possession of ‘Career Communication’ and ‘Career Resilience’ than female athletes. In addition, male athletes perceived ‘Career Communication’ more often as a competence giving them a competitive advantage in the job market than female athletes. Female athletes, on the other hand, more often opted for ‘Career & Lifestyle Management’. In addition to gender, significant differences between individual and team athletes, as well as between active, retiring, and new career athletes were found for perceived competitive advantage. While team athletes more often chose for ‘Career Communication’ than individual athletes, athletes in a new career more often opted for ‘Career Engagement & Flexibility’ than active athletes. These results illustrate the importance of an individual and tailor-made approach when guiding elite athletes in their competency development. In STUDY 4, perceptions of employers about employing active and former elite athletes were examined using a qualitative approach. Based on semi-structured focus groups and interviews with 58 employers from six European countries, employers’ reasons whether or not to employ elite athletes were investigated. Thematic data analysis showed that employers are willing to employ elite athletes because of athlete-related reasons (e.g., athletes’ competencies developed throughout their sporting career) and employer related reasons (e.g., increasing awareness and recognition of the organisation). On the other hand, some employers were reluctant to employ elite athletes due to the perceived limited personal and vocational development of athletes and their potential limited presence in the workplace (e.g., due to competitions). Findings provide a basis to inform employers about potential benefits or pitfalls of employing athletes and to implement strategies for optimising athletes’ employment (e.g., mentorship on the work floor, employing athletes within government services). In its entirety, this PhD provided a substantial contribution to the existing literature on athletes’ vocational development. Guided by the HAC model (Wylleman, 2019), ACT model (Stambulova, 2003) and HEA approach (Henriksen, 2010), athletes’ vocational development and employability were explored from a competence and environmental approach across three consecutive career phases: active phase, retirement phase, new career phase. In doing so, STUDY 1 & 2 allowed us to gain a broader insight in athletes’ resources required to optimise their vocational development. STUDY 3 & 4 provided a better understanding of the role of the environment and its stakeholders in athletes’ vocational development. Altogether, the findings of those studies recognized that athletes’ vocational development is a continuum in an athlete’s lifelong career (i.e., across multiplecareer phases) requiring a competence, integrated environmental, and individual approach. To facilitate the implementation of these approaches, practical recommendations targeting multiple stakeholders (e.g., athletes, policy institutions, DC support providers, employers) are highlighted at the end of this PhD. These recommendations can inform the development and implementation of strategies to enhance athletes’ vocational development across different career phases.
Aantal pagina's: 242
Jaar van publicatie:2022
Trefwoorden:Athletic career, Elite athlete