Student versus athlete: Professional socialisation influx

  • C Burnett
Keywords: Sport development, socialisation, student-athlete, Higher Education Institutions


Against the backdrop of commercial sport and increased professional opportunities for high performance athletes, student-athletes experience a bi-polarity of identify formation – as professionals and/or professional athletes. A case study was undertaken at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to identify the various factors and phases of this duality in socialisation practices across a spectrum of six different sports (i.e. rugby, cricket, soccer, netball, hockey and athletics). A total of 62 current (mean age 21.1 years) and 31 ‘early’ retired student-athletes (mean age 22.4 years) completed a self-constructed questionnaire. The recall of past influences informs and gives body to the first (sampling or introductory phase) entry into the world of competitive sport. A symbolic interactionist framework provides the interpretative nuances for the deconstruction of the realities of being a student, on the one hand, and an elite athlete, on the
other. The results indicate that injuries (71.0%), promising career opportunities (56.5%) and the financial cost of participating (46.8%) are the main contributing factors to retirement from active participation. Continued participation and self-reported high levels of motivation relate to sporting success (69.4%), perceived talent (62.9%) and enjoyment (77.4%). The career choice and possible trauma of early retirement is related to the identity formation, loss of social status, and availability of a professional career as a coach within the high performance sporting sector.
Stakeholders should be informed about the social realities to design appropriate programmes and interventions for long-term talent and career development that would produce a much needed human resource for the elite sport sector.

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eISSN: 1117-4315