Life out of the Limelight: Understanding the Non-sporting Pursuits of Elite Athletes

By Nathan Price, Nadine Morrison and Sharyn Arnold.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Elite athletes are faced with increased training and competition demands. As a result, they are in danger of developing a one-dimensional identity as an ‘athlete’, may lack life balance, be more prone to burnout, be less prepared to transition into life after sport and fail to recognise that life-skills acquired through sport can be transferred into other settings (Petitpas, Danish, McKelvain & Murphy, 1992; Lavallee, Grove & Gordon, 1997). This paper argues that engaging in non-sporting pursuits helps provide a sense of life balance, assists in developing a more well-rounded individual and may enhance and prolong an athlete’s sporting career.
The purpose of the current study was to identify the types of non-sporting activities that elite athletes engage in on a weekly basis and establish whether these activities had any perceived impact upon life balance, wellbeing, sporting performance and career longevity. Details of weekly activities, perceived life balance and transferable skills were sought from elite athletes across a range of sports at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
More than 90% of athletes indicated that actively engaging in non-sporting pursuits helped to lengthen their sporting career. These non-sporting activities helped provide an outlet from sport, general life-skills and the security of alternative career paths. Furthermore, the majority (72%) of those athletes that were working or studying believed that this aided their sporting performance.
The results of this study support previous research which suggests that athletes will gain maximum benefits from their physical training when all other facets of their life are healthy (von Guenthner & Hammermeister, 2007). Sporting organisations and coaches should therefore support the development of athletes as a whole person and encourage engagement in non-sporting pursuits to enhance sporting performance, career longevity and wellbeing.

Keywords: Elite Athletes, Identity, Life Balance, Wellbeing, Transferable Skills, Performance

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.69-80. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 651.543KB).

Dr. Nathan Price

Manager, National Athlete Career and Education, Sports Performance and Development, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Dr. Nathan Price is the Manager of the National Athlete Career and Education (NACE) program at the Australian Sports Commission where he works to develop initiatives to support elite athletes in their personal and professional development. He completed his PhD at the University of Wollongong, Australia, researching the career development, education and planning of elite athletes in preparation for a life after sport. His key area of interest is the integration and involvement of elite athletes into higher education and training with a special focus on their professional development and preparation for life after sport.

Nadine Morrison

Research Assistant, Athlete Career and Education, AIS Elite Performance, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Nadine Morrison works as a Research Assistant at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). Whilst working as a post-graduate scholar in Biomechanics at the AIS, she recently completed her Honours (Physical Science) which examined the footwork of elite male cricket batsmen when facing deliveries of various lengths.

Sharyn Arnold

Head of Discipline, Athlete Career and Education, AIS Elite Performance, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Sharyn Arnold is the Head of the Athlete Career and Education discipline at the Australian Institute of Sport, where she works to assist athletes in their career and education endeavours.