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The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport
The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport

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3 Level of participation

As Ollie Phillips (rugby) touched on in Activity 1, athletes who compete at a higher level (e.g. full time Olympic level athletes) arguably have more at stake since sport is their income. They are also likely to have a strong athletic identity. Furthermore, elite athletes tend to have a greater number of transitional events to navigate during their career, for example moving to a higher level, injury, deselection and changes in public perception (Samuel and Tenenbaum, 2011). These events all provide opportunity for disruption in their athletic career and require the ability to adapt and adjust.

However, it could equally be argued that lower level athletes face greater challenges negotiating transitions. One reason for this is because lower level athletes are more likely to have to juggle multiple roles and identities. While in the previous section you saw how this could help when coping with transitions − as less of your identity would be ‘lost’ or affected − multiple identities can take focus away from what needs attention. Take, for example, Caroline, who you met in Session 1, Video 1. Caroline as a club-level athlete found it difficult to deal with injury on top of her other roles, which she balanced with being an athlete.

Another reason lower level athletes may face more difficulties in transitions is because of a lack of support available to them. Jewett et al. (2019) looked at the experiences of university level athletes and reported that when the athlete left university and lost the support and status that came with being recognised as an athlete, they were vulnerable to several mental health challenges. This echoes the stories of the professional athletes that you heard from in Activity 1 and further illustrates how athletes of all levels can experience challenges navigating transitions in sport. You will look at the importance of support in more detail in Section 5.

While level of participation may not be a clear factor when it comes to distinguishing how athletes cope with transitions, there do seem to be some differences when the experiences of athletes from different sports are considered.