Developmental biographies of Olympic Super-Elite and Elite athletes – a multidisciplinary pattern recognition analysis
Michigan State University
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This multidisciplinary study used pattern recognition analyses to examine the developmental biographies of 16 Great British Olympic and World Champions (‘Super-Elite’) and 16 matched international athletes who had not won major medals (‘Elite’). Athlete, coach and parent interviews (260 total interview hours) combined in-depth qualitative and quantitative methods. A combination of demographics, psychosocial characteristics, coach and family relationships, practice, competition, and performance development discriminated Super-Elite from Elite athletes with > 90% accuracy. Compared to Elite athletes, Super-Elite athletes were characterized by: (1) An early critical negative life experience in close proximity to significant positive sport-related events; (2) higher relative importance of sport over other aspects of life, stronger obsessiveness/perfectionism, and sport-related ruthlessness/selfishness; (3) conjoint outcome and mastery focus, and use of counterphobic and/or ‘total preparation’ strategies to maintain/enhance performance under pressure; (4) coaches who better met their physical and psychosocial needs; (5) coming back after severe performance setbacks during adulthood, and career ‘turning points’ leading to enhanced determination to excel; (6) more pronounced diversified youth sport engagement, and prolonged extensive sport-specific practice and competitions; and (7) continued performance improvement over more years during adulthood, eventually attaining their (first) gold medal after 21 ± 6 practice years. The findings are discussed relative to potential causal interactions and theoretical implications.
Journal of Expertise;
Article accepted for publication in Journal of Expertise
Cardiff Metropolitan University (Grant ID: Cardiff Metropolian (Internal))
- Sport Research Groups 
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