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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An exploration of the meanings attributed to high performance sport and academics by student-athletes at a sport school in western Canada Blair, Trisha Genève


Over the last several years Canadian sport policy and programs have demonstrated an increased emphasis on the development of high performance athletes following what is being called an “athlete-centred” approach (Athletes CAN, 1994; Thibault & Babiak, 2005). This change in Canada’s National sport system toward an athlete-centered approach can be seen in the creation of organizations such as sport schools. Sport schools have been developed with the intention of providing an environment where student-athletes have the opportunity to pursue excellence in both their academic program and their athletic careers. In contradistinction to these developments, concerns continue to be raised in the literature about the potential negative effects of high performance sport involvement for youth. It is suggested that youth sport functions as a professional and Olympic sport feeder system in an emerging global sport monoculture (“prolympism”) that places far more emphasis on performance than personal development (Donnelly, 1997; Kidd & Donnelly, 2000; Ingham et al., 2002). One limitation of this literature, however, is that it generally has failed to adequately take account of athletes’ opinions and experiences. In particular, there is very little research that focuses on the ‘lived’ experiences of young Canadian elite athletes and even less on youth experiences in sport schools. The purpose of this research was to help fill this gap through a preliminary qualitative assessment of the opinions of student-athletes attending a sport school, focusing on their perceptions of how the school has affected their learning, and their personal and athletic development. The study questions are: 1) How do youth studentathletes negotiate their relationship with high performance sport and academics in a sport school setting? 2) What are the strengths and weaknesses of sport schools in facilitating this relationship? 3) What can the meanings youth student-athletes attribute to their sport and school experiences tell us about youth involvement in high performance sport and sport schools? The data for the study was collected from a sample of 10 individuals: 1 school administrator and 9 student-athletes attending grades 11 and 12 at a sport school in western Canada (WSS). The primary data collection method was semi-structured in depth interviews. In addition, observation, document analysis, and a short questionnaire provided supplementary contextual data. The analysis situates the student-athletes’ narratives in the frameworks of “prolympism” and an athlete-centred approach. Analyzing how student-athletes experience WSS has practical implications for both sport and pedagogical policy in terms of program development and evaluation measures.

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