Preparing olympic athletes for lives outside of elite sport : toward best practice

Barker-Ruchti, Natalie ; Barker, Dean ; Lee, Jessica ; Rynne, Steven

(IOC Olympic Studies Centre Postgraduate Research Grant Programme 2011)

There is no doubt that Olympic performance requires an exceptional range of physical and psycho-social characteristics. Athletes must be determined, persistent, patient, and of course, develop extraordinary physical competencies. While one would assume that such characteristics would guarantee success in ‘normal lives’ beyond sport, research suggests that this is not always the case. While... Plus

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    Summary
    There is no doubt that Olympic performance requires an exceptional range of physical and psycho-social characteristics. Athletes must be determined, persistent, patient, and of course, develop extraordinary physical competencies. While one would assume that such characteristics would guarantee success in ‘normal lives’ beyond sport, research suggests that this is not always the case. While some athletes transit into other fields with few problems, others encounter difficulties adapting to different lives. Many experience forms of disorientation, depression and self-doubt. While athletes train to become Olympians, they learn ways of valuing, understanding and doing. Socio-pedagogical research suggests that this learning is embodied and thus includes the construction of identity. Such becoming and being has implications beyond competition, as athletes will bring their embodied selves to the settings they enter after retirement. This study examines the tacit and unintentional learning that takes place in elite sporting contexts and how these kinds of learning become relevant outside of sport. Eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with recently retired Olympic athletes. A reading of the participants’ data based on socio-cultural learning theory reveals the dispositions the athletes developed and how these proved persistent or underwent reconstruction after sport. Key findings are: a) transitions require substantial learning and therefore effort; b) learning should be understood in terms of contextual productivity; c) unintentional learning inheres in sporting environments; and d) some aspects of sporting identities conflict, while some are consistent, with lives outside of sport. Sport pedagogues should thus reflect on learning in sport settings and consider how it relates to lives beyond sport.