The British student-athlete experience : identity, commitment and role conflict
This thesis aimed to develop a clearer understanding of the academic and psychological patterns of elite student-athletes. In particular, it takes a psychological perspective on how these dual role individuals cope with potential role conflict and maintain balance in their lives. The thesis is comprised of four studies: Study I investigated the academic outcomes (grade point averages) and academic preparation (A level points) of 120 elite British student-athletes compared to the average of their non student-athlete peers (n = 5395). The results showed that firstly, some student-athletes - in particular those who were male, younger and who played team sports - were more academically 'at risk' than others. Study 2 presented a systematic review of student-athlete psychological outcomes. A variety of research implications were found, including the need to; measure student-athlete role conflict; link objective and psychological outcomes in the same study; measure student outcomes as well as athletic ones; utilise a studentathlete specific measure of career maturity; research the elite British student-athlete experience; and undertake comparative U.S./U.K. student-athlete research. Study 3 took its lead from the implications of the systematic review. Firstly, Study 3a aimed to construct and initially validate a multidimensional and bidirectional measure of student-athlete role conflict, using the conceptualisations of work-family role conflict from the organisational psychology literature (Carlson, Kacmar and Williams, 2000). The outcome of this study was a 23-item measure of student-athlete role conflict. Secondly, Study 3b aimed to use the role conflict. measure to investigate the psychosocial patterns of elite student- athletes finding that objective outcomes (e.g. GPA, sporting level, hours in role), identity, role conflict and career maturity associate and differ in ways that would be anticipated, i.e. sport with sport and academic with academic (including career maturity). In particular, career maturity positively associated with student identity. However, higher nonexclusive and more intrinsically committed identities helped protect against role conflict. Thus, from a personality perspective, to maintain one's identity balance, the study concluded that one could either adopt appropriate role behaviours or increase role commitment. Study 3c compared U.K. and U.S. student-athletes finding that, although no different in terms of overall GPA and career maturity, U.S. studentathletes experienced significantly more role conflict and were motivated significantly more extrinsically in both their sport and study compared to U.K. student-athletes. Study 4 used a cyclical and collaborative action research approach to understand and respond to a specific elite British student-athlete environment. Role conflict issues were identified and tackled bye ither behavioural psychoeducational programming or by structural management recommendations. The programme of research in this thesis highlights the benefit of taking a psychological perspective on the student-athlete experience. In particular it suggests that college sport can be more than developing one's sporting ability whilst becoming academically qualified. When structured in a developmentally appropriate way, sport and study can act as complementary activities to enhance personal development.