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

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2 Lifespan perspective

From a holistic viewpoint, it is important to note that the transitions an athlete will face are not exclusively sport related and other transitions will occur across an athlete’s lifespan. As you will see in Wylleman and Lavallee’s (2004) developmental model shown in Figure 1, athletes will typically face normative transitions at an athletic, psychological, psychosocial and academic or vocational level as well. All of these could interact to impact on sports performance.

Briefly study Figure 1, where the orange bars represent the transition boundaries, and then complete the activity that follows where you will explore the elements of this model in more detail.

Wylleman and Lavallee’s (2004) developmental model. Described in long description available below.
Figure 1 Wylleman and Lavallee’s (2004) developmental model

Although the model indicates that discontinuation on the athletic level occurs just before the age of 30 obviously this is different for different athletes, with many athletes retiring at a much later age and some, particularly those from early specialisation sports such as gymnastics, retiring at an earlier age.

Activity 2 Transitions across the lifespan

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Watch the video below which explores the components of Wylleman and Lavallee’s (2004) developmental model. This model allows you to explore the transitions an athlete might experience in different aspects of their lives in order to give you a more rounded or holistic understanding of the individual and their transition experiences. The video talks about the model in relation to a hypothetical case study, Natasha, who is a sprinter.

As you can see the model has 4 ‘levels’ – athletic, psychological, psychosocial and academic/vocational. Within each level there are different normative transitions that an athlete will face that are important to be aware of.

As you watch the video complete the table below by identifying some of the features, potential challenges and impact of the different transitions Natasha experiences.

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Video 1
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Obviously not all athletes will follow this exact path, but it is important to consider the impact these academic and vocational developments can have on the athlete.

Table 1 Applying the model
Transition Features of the transition and potential challenges Potential impact on sports performance and participation
Childhood to adolescence
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Adolescence to adulthood
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Primary to secondary education
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Secondary to higher education
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Higher education to vocational training and a professional occupation
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Discussion

Below are some examples of what you might have put in your table after watching the video.

Table 1 Applying the model (completed)
Transition Features of the transition and potential challenges Potential impact on sports performance and participation
Childhood to adolescence
  • Time of great change
  • Developing more mature relationships with others
  • Desire for role identification
  • Becoming more independent from parents
  • If a parent is heavily involved in supporting their child’s participation this may conflict with the adolescent’s need for greater independence
  • If the athlete develops a strong athletic identity at the expense of other aspects of their identity, it can have a negative impact on the athlete’s development and ability to cope with stressors (e.g. career transitions)
Adolescence to adulthood
  • Priorities may change
  • Young adulthood is characterised by a need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people
  • An athlete may begin to have more relationship commitments that could compete with the demands of sports participation
Primary to secondary education
  • Change in structure of education (e.g. larger school, broader range of lessons)
  • An increase in the volume of work
  • A need to fit into a new social group
  • An athlete may find it harder to fit in training sessions as they have more homework
  • They may increasingly be invited to socialise with friends outside school which may compete with the demands of their sport
Secondary to higher education
  • Possibly moving away from home
  • New social networks
  • Moving away will require a change in coach
  • New social networks may help or hinder sports participation
  • May open up a new level of competition to athletes, thus providing more opportunities for athletic development
Higher education to vocational training and a professional occupation
  • Logistical difficulties
  • Longer working hours
  • Financial commitments
  • Sports participation may be harder to maintain
  • Depending on the athlete’s level they may have to prioritise work over sport to satisfy financial and career demands

Through a lifespan perspective an athlete will invariably experience both upward and downward transitions in their performance level, both of which can place demands on the athlete. You will examine each of these in the next section.