Tales from the Future: A Narrative Investigation of the Imagined Career Paths of Young Athletes

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Abstract

Athletes’ paths to international sporting success are unique but always include a number of transitions within sport, as well as outside of it, which hold the potential for crisis or growth. Particularly the transition from talented junior to elite senior athlete plays a critical role in the overall athletic career. The present study is a qualitative inquiry using semistructured interviews as data. We asked eight young and very talented athletes to imagine they were at the end of a successful career in their chosen sport and invited them to describe how they got there. The qualitative interview strategy was narrative in its attempt to elicit how the young athletes made meaning of their endeavours through narratives, and biographical in its attempt to ask the athletes to describe their future career paths. We analysed the interviews as single case studies, subjected them to meaning condensation and then constructed the final narratives. Common features of the tales pertain to the fact that these athletes are still young and have yet to grasp the reality of what they are embarking on, which is clear from the simplicity and lightness that is portrayed in their perspectives. The athletes give little emphasis to the challenges and need of social support inherent in an athletic career. On the one hand, the poor preparation of the athletes for the time to come is worrying; on the other hand, the unworried lightness and optimism of the athletes’ stories could also be seen as a strength.

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