Doctor of Philosophy
Most competitively spirited individuals who engage in sport, we call them athletes, are striving to be the best they can be at their chosen discipline. To help athletes achieve their goals, several athlete development models (Côté, 1999, Gulbin et al., 2013, Higgs et al., 2019) have been produced to help coaches and sport administrators best support, and guide an athlete to achieve their optimum performance. While it has been recognized that there is contextual uniqueness to the para athlete development experience (Huetzler et al., 2016) and that there are nuances to the para athlete development experience that need to be considered in the development of a para athlete development model (Lemez et al., 2020) no such model currently exists. Some research has been done to address para athlete development from the perspective of other stakeholders such as coaches and administrators (Patatas et al., 2020) or involved athletes through quantitative methods (Lemez et al., 2020, Dehghansai et al., 2017, Dehghansai & Baker, 2020), but there is a paucity when it comes to representations of the voice of para athletes. Therefore, my dissertation research examined the athlete development experiences of para athletes through qualitative methodologies. I conducted two studies. The first study examined the development experiences of para swimmers at various stages of development from the perspective of para swimmers and parents of para swimmers. Utilizing an interpretative phenomenological analysis, barriers and challenges of para swimmer development were identified. The second study involved para swimmers in the latter stages of development and focused on identifying the contextual factors that impacted para swimmer development. From the data of the second study, I was also able to compare the development experiences of para swimmers to the key factors of the Long-Term Development model (Higgs et al., 2019) and identify systematic gaps in the para swimmer development pathway. Adding the perspective of para athletes to the conversation on athlete development will assist sport administrators in addressing the current gaps in the para sport system and help to inform the production of a para athlete development model.
Summary for Lay Audience
Over the past three decades there has been a growing interest in the development of athletes. At the same time the recognition and prestige of para sport (sport for athletes with impairments) has also grown, however, research into the development of para athletes continues to be limited. The research that has been done in the area of para athlete development has not given a voice to para athletes. Therefore, my research focused on investigating the para athlete development experiences of para swimmers from the perspective of para swimmers and parents of para swimmers who are intimately involved in the athletic development of their children. I conducted two studies, using semi-structured interviews for data collection. The first study focused on the development experiences of para swimmers at all different stages of development who were from a single province in Canada. Parents of para swimmers were also included in the sample. The second study considered the development experiences of elite para swimmers in the latter stages of athlete development from across Canada who had been selected to their first international multi-sport event. Findings from the two studies show areas of significance within the para swimmer development pathway including fundamental skill development, personal connections, coaches, classification and being with others who have similar experienced, social and organizational contextual factors and gaps within the current system of para swimmer development. By learning more about the development experiences of para swimmers, sport managers and administrators can begin to develop programs that enhance and support the development of future para swimmers.
Sales, Darda J., "Understanding Para Athlete Development: An Examination of Para Swimming" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8688.
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