A multilevel approach to the path to expertise in three different competitive settings.

Author:Goncalves, Carlos Eduardo
Position::Research article - Report


Excellent performance in sport has a strong positive relationship with the accumulated number of hours of practice and with the specialization years, which are considered crucial for the development of the athlete's skill level, readiness and sport commitment (De Bruin et al., 2007; Gongalves et al., 2009). Thus, if youth athletes want to achieve high performances, they need to engage in deliberate practice during their specialization years, focusing on tasks that challenge their current performance. In particular to build solid competences and skills in future top-performers, sport organizations interested in the preparation of young talents select potential athletes at increasingly young ages, providing them more time and better conditions to practice, better coaches, teammates and opponents. This perspective seems reasonable and led sport organizations around the world to create specialized training centres where selected talented young athletes practised under the supervision of experienced coaches in order to become professional athletes and integrate with the youth national teams. In team sports this strategy has been adopted by professional clubs or national sports associations, and starts usually at around 14 years of age.

In most cases, the youngsters live, go to school and practice at the training campus, isolated from their families and familiar environments. This choice towards an elite restricted group at an early age raises the problem of talent identification and selection. To recruit adolescents or pre-adolescents to join a demanding training program on a full commitment basis is a complex task that may generate errors in prognosis.

With a concern for this critical issue, some authors (Elferink-Gemser et al., 2007; Helsen et al., 2000) argue that the selection and orientation of talent has been strongly dependent on biological and motor variables, although these variables are not able to fully differentiate athletes by competitive levels. Furthermore, it is believed that, in order to engage in a demanding schedule of year-long practice, individuals have to be highly motivated.

The effects of the competitive environment on enjoyment and positive feelings in sport are not fully understood, but the study of elite performers has shown that they are competitive, self-confident, and cope well with stress with respect to lower level athletes, or amateurs (Gould et al., 2002; Harwood et al., 2004). Hence, it is expected that adolescents who engage in elite programmes will show the same personality characteristics, and the exposure to demanding training loads will reinforce them.

Beyond the normal path to sport specialization, the perspective of a professional career plays a major role in the young athletes' choices. Although high level sport is performed by professional athletes, only a few sports offer a rewarding career, allowing the athlete to improve his/her life standards and to plan the future. The present study explores three contexts of practice in two different sports, soccer and volleyball. In most European countries, soccer is the only sport seen to be truly professional. Conversely, Volleyball, although a popular sport among youngsters, does not offer a professional career, but the national association runs an elite programme for adolescents, in an all-year-long training campus, where the athletes live in closure, providing opportunities for high training volume and quality.

Research pointed out that an orientation for mastery achievement is critical for overcoming challenging motor tasks (Duda, 2001; Roberts, 2001), and that a competitive, ego achievement orientation has been described as a deterrent factor for enjoyment in practice and the sport adherence (Sage and Kavussanu, 2007; Sarrazin and Guillet, 2001). However, the pursuit of excellence in sport means that progress in competitive level must be constantly evaluated and the most efficient kind of evaluation is competition. If practice is oriented to improve performance, it is reasonable to expect that athletes show a strong interest in competitive outcomes and see victory as an important moment in the process. The on-going conflict between the specific characteristics of competition and the persistence in sport programmes is far from being clarified or solved (Gongalves et al., 2012).

Hence, our purpose was to assess the situational specific contexts that could lead the youngsters to engage and to continue in competitive programmes. De Bruin et al. (2007), in a study with young chess players, designed an instrument, called Deliberate Practice Motivation Questionnaire (DPMQ), to assess the individuals' will to become an excellent performer and to improve in competition. The DPMQ was adapted to soccer and volleyball. In a previous study with young basketball players (Gongalves et al., 2011), was found that the will to excel and the will to compete represented variables that can discriminate between players at elite and non-elite level. It appears relevant for coaches and sport managers to have an accurate insight of the effects of sport engagement in the sport commitment of talented young athletes, and for scholars to...

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