The developmental environment of elite athletics: an evolving system
Naylor, Adam Hoffman
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The development of excellent athletes does not occur in a vacuum. Family, coaches, peers, others in sport, and society itself often provide the necessary support, guidance, and motivation that is essential to elite performance. Much like the athlete changes physical and psychologically over the course of development, the surrounding social system evolves in accordance with athletic and personal needs. This journey might be best understood by considering Cote's (1999) model of family development in sport, McGoldrick and Carter's (1999) views on the life cycle from a social perspective, and Csikszentimihalyi' s perspectives on the development of excellence ( 1986), in relationship to one another. This present investigation hypothesized that an elite athlete's social environment would change in its size (number of relationships) and nature of relationships throughout the competitor's years of excellent achievements. Seventy-two, professional, male athletes from baseball, hockey, and basketball completed the System of Athletic Influence Questionnaire (SAIQ), a measure that assesses the frequency and importance of relationships that influence athletes' lives. Furthermore, a contextual interview was conducted with a veteran hockey player to provide contextual details that are unavailable from the SAIQ alone. It was found that the social-developmental system surrounding an athlete grows and changes with age. In particular, friendships, relationships with other athletes and athletic trainers, intimate relationships, and marital relationships increase in importance and frequency throughout an athlete's professional career. Differently, the roles of mothers, fathers, assistant coaches, and agents appear to diminish with sport experience and age. Examination of the data led to the belief that there are three social-developmental stages during a professional athlete's career: 1) Finding Excellence; 2) Focused Striving; 3) Broadening Horizons. During each successive stage the social system that surrounds that athlete grows in size. Also with each new stage, reliance on the formal social structures of sport diminishes, social relationships outside of sport are more readily embraced, and intimate relationships grow in priority. An awareness of the evolving social environment provides insights that are beneficial for optimizing athletic development and nurturing feelings of competence and psychosocial well being.
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