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Irish athlete transition experiences within the US collegiate sport system


   Faculty of Life and Health Sciences

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  Dr Lee-Ann Sharp, Dr Paul Darby, Dr Kyle Paradis  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This studentship is based in Belfast. 

Athletes must overcome multiple transitional challenges to reach optimal performance development (Wylleman & Rosier, 2016). Overcoming these transitions and the way in which such challenges are dealt with, plays a key role in athlete progression towards expertise (MacNamara et al., 2010). Research has shown that transitions within an athlete’s career are both concurrent and reciprocal with transitions in other domains of an athlete’s life (e.g., academic, psychosocial, and financial). Athletes must therefore be adaptable, to juggle the development of a successful athletic career and the parallel pursuit of their academic/vocational development (Tekavc et al., 2015). The Holistic Athletic Career model (HAC; Wylleman & Rosier, 2016) provides a detailed framework to explore the normative stages and transitions faced by athletes at athletic, vocational, psychological, psychosocial, and financial levels. Wylleman and Rosier (2016) argued the need to consider the ‘whole person’ and as such the HAC provides an appropriate framework to interpret athlete progress that includes psychosocial development.

For talented athletes who strive to combine their sporting career with continuing education at secondary level or within higher education, it is essential to continually balance their time and energy within their academic, athletic, and social roles (Bruner et al., 2008). Previous research has suggested that talented athletes have a tendency to perform well in both their sport and in the academic setting by being highly motivated to succeed in both domains (e.g., Brettschneider, 1999; Durand-Bush & Salmela, 2002; Umbach et al., 2006). Student-athletes are reported to be committed to both their education and sport when both pursuits connect to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being (O'Neill et al., 2013). However, combining education and sport careers has also been linked with a number of challenges faced by athletes, including struggling to incorporate study with training and competition schedules, dealing with fatigue, facing financial concerns, being forced to make personal sacrifices which can impact on their wellbeing and psychosocial development (European Commission, 2012; Burden et al., 2004; O'Neill et al., 2013; Petitpas et al., 2009; Pummell et al., 2008).

To date there is limited research that has explored the transitions of athletes from the development to mastery levels of athletic development within the HAC. Furthermore, it is often alongside this athletic transition that athletes are also undertaking substantial transitions in their academic lives and psychosocial support network. One such transition is that of talented Irish athletes making the transition into US collegiate sport. This novel transition within sport involves critical moments in the lives of athletes such as moving countries away from established psychosocial support networks, changes in coaching, training, and competition environments, in addition to transitions in academic structures and provisions. Guided by the Holistic Athlete Career Model (Wylleman & Rosier, 2016), the aim of the proposed program of research is to explore Irish athlete experiences of transitioning into the US collegiate sport system and the impact that those transitions have on athlete mental health and well-being.

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