The influence of community on athletic development: An integrated case study
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Athletes are embedded within an environment that can be conceptualized as comprising multiple nested hierarchal levels that span increasingly larger contexts—the most salient being the individual level, the club level, and the community level. Viewing the field of sport psychology broadly, it is apparent that the majority of research has been conducted at lower levels, such as athletes’ developmental trajectories (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2003) and peer interactions (Smith, 2003). While sport scientists have begun to study higher levels such as successful sport programs (Martindale, Collins, & Abraham, 2007; Vallee & Bloom, 2005) and successful clubs (Henriksen, Stambulova, & Roessler, 2010a, 2010b) there is a lack of research at the community level. The purpose of this project was to conduct an integrated case study to systematically gather rich information via diverse sources to effectively understand how one successful sporting community develops athletic talent. Lockeport, Nova Scotia—a relatively small, rural, maritime community with a population of approximately 650 residents—was chosen based on athletic success. Twenty-two community residents, including athletes, parents, coaches, a grandparent, the recreation coordinator, and the mayor, were interviewed with the aim to understand how community level factors may have influenced athletic development within a recent ten year span (2000-2009). Interviews were qualitatively analyzed using the method of content analysis (Côté, Salmela, Baria, & Russell, 1993). Results supported existing athlete development research and highlighted underexplored areas. Specifically, results fell into one of three themes: (1) athletes’ developmental experiences, (2) the community influences that caused or enabled these developmental experiences, (3) and socio-cultural influences expressed by participants. Regarding developmental experiences, athletes in Lockeport engaged in large amounts of unorganized youth-led sport activities comprised of mixed-age athletes. Athletes also participated in various different organized sports, whose members remained stable throughout development. Regarding community influences, coaches created community sporting events, celebrations, and learning opportunities for youth. This was facilitated by the integration of the local high school and community. Regarding socio-cultural influences, participants expressed a sense of community and shared a collective identity, which may have facilitated the presence of role modeling and pro-community behavior apparent in Lockeport.