African Journal for Physical Activity and Health Sciences

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The role of universities in managing Long Term Athlete Development: A South African case study

L. Holl, C. Burnett


Long Term Athlete Development as a conceptual framework for the research represents a sport development pathway that articulates with progressive human growth and development. The differential layering of the development phases relates to the socialisation process (into and through sport) which underpins the elite sport participation trajectory. The study reports on the role of a public residential South African university in managing the optimal development of elite student-athletes in field disciplines and decathlon. The case study approach and analysis utilise insights from ‘effective sport governance’ to reflect on organisational factors directly affecting the development of elite student-athletes. This explorative study uses a mixed-method approach (qualitative and quantitative) that is informed by document analysis, in-depth interviews with key role players and a questionnaire completed by current elite-student athletes. A purposive sample includes 15 current (total population) and 5 retired elite throwers and decathlon student-athletes (n=20), 2 coaches, 5 managers and 5 specialist service providers. Results indicate the challenges faced by elite student-athletes in balancing a dual career-pathway, access appropriate resources and integrate the different components of their lives as most are compelled to earn a living after their studies. Athletes’ preference for sporting excellence dominated their lives, which in turn translated into high demands for quality resource provision by the university. The lack of resources, strategic partner collaboration and intra-institutional synergies contributed to differential levels of satisfaction and the creation of an enabling environment for fostering optimal student-athlete development.

Keywords: Student-athletes, university, management, Long Term Athlete Development,
resources, athletics.

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