Athlete Welfare & Development by Melanie Lang Lecturer Edge Hill University

Decades of research indicates the benefits of participating in sport. As well as being fun, sport has the potential to positively affect health and fitness (Bertelloni et al., 2006); increase bodily awareness and self esteem (Engh, 2002); and teach rules, respect, sportsmanship and social interaction (Donnelly, 1993; David, 1999; Myers & Barrett, 2002). However, recent research is also highlighting the potential for negative outcomes through playing sport, such as disordered eating (Sundgot-Borgen, 1994; Byrne & McLean, 2002; Sundgot-Borgen et al., 2003; Kerr et al., 2006) and physical, emotional and sexual abuse (Brackenridge, 1997, 2001; Brackenridge & Kirby, 1997; Donnelly, 1999; Gervis & Dunn, 2004). Indeed, modern organised sport has been described as “an environment in which the most respectable aspects of sports, such as its educative scope, sportsmanship and physical and mental well-being, are seriously threatened” (David, 1999, p.53).

Another issue that’s receiving increased academic and scientific interest is training intensity (see for example, Tofler et al., 1996; World Health Organisation, 1998; IOC Medical Commission, 2004). An increasing number of sports are adopting – and in many cases are required to adopt – athlete-development plans such as the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model which, although not supported by a meaningful scientific evidence base (Collins, 2009), advocate ten years of training for elite success (Balyi & Hamilton, 2004). This is resulting in athletes specialising in one sport at younger and younger ages (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000) and training longer and harder than ever before and from a younger age (Sharma et al., 2003), putting them at increased risk of physical and mental ‘burnout’ (Hollander et al., 1995), overuse injuries (Wolstencroft, 2002) and dropout (Salguero et al., 2003).

Yet as well as developing athletes to the best of their ability in a safe and healthy manner, sports organisations in the UK have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of athletes (Department for Education and Skills, 2004; Child Protection in Sport Unit, 2005). Understanding and promoting participant development is one crucial element to this. As Bailey et al. (2010) note, participant development models are best when they are holistic in nature and “address the complexity of interaction between different domains of functioning and offering clear practical guidelines and directions for further investigation and development, while also providing and empirical and theoretical justification for these statements” (Bailey et al., 2010, p.3). Consequently, Bailey et al., (2010, p.4) suggest that coaches and clubs centralise participant development and develop interdisciplinary research approaches, drawing on social, psychological and biological disciplines in order to benefit athletes.



American Academy of Pediatrics (2000) Intensive training and sports specialisation in young athletes.  Pediatrics. 106 (1), pp.154-157.

Bailey, R, Collins, D., Ford, P., MacNamara, A., Toms, M. & Pearce, G. (2010) Participant Development in Sport: AN Academic Review. Leeds, sports coach UK.

Balyi, I. & Hamilton, A. (2004) Long Term Athlete Development: Trainability in Childhood and Adolescence. Windows of Opportunity, Optimal Trainability. Victoria, B. C., National Coaching Institute British Columbia & Advanced Training and Performance.

Bertelloni, S., Ruggeri, S. & Baroncelli, G. I. (2006) Effects of sports training in adolescence on growth, puberty and bone health. Gynecological Endocrinology. 22 (11), pp.605-612.

Brackenridge, C. H. (1997) “He owned me basically”: Women’s experience of sexual abuse in sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 32 (2), pp.115-130.

Brackenridge, C. H. (2001) Spoilsports: Understanding and Preventing Sexual Exploitation in Sport. London, Routledge.

Brackenridge, C., & Kirby, S. (1997) Playing safe? Assessing the risk of sexual abuse to elite child athletes. International Review of the Sociology of Sport. 32 (4), pp.407-418.

Byrne, S. & McLean, N. (2002) Elite athletes: Effects of the pressure to be thin.  Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 5 (2), pp.80-94.

CPSU (2005) Strategy for Safeguarding Children and Young People in Sport 2006-2012. Leicester, CPSU.

Collins, D. (2009) Researching Youth Sport Conference, Brunel University.

David, P. (1999) Children’s rights and sports – Young athletes and competitive sports: Exploit and exploitation. The International Journal of Children’s Rights. 7, pp.53-81.

DfES (2004) The Children Act 2004. London, HMSO.

Donnelly, P. (1993) Problems associated with youth involvement in high-performance sport. In: Cahill, B. R. & Pearl, A. J. (eds.) Intensive Participation in Children’s Sports. Champaign, IL., Human Kinetics. pp.95-126.

Donnelly, P. (1997) Child labour, sport labour: Applying child labour laws to sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 32 (4), pp.389-406.

Engh, F. (2002) Why Johnny Hates Sports: Why Organised Youth Sports are Failing Our Children and What We Can Do About It. New York, Square One.

Gervis, M. & Dunn, N. (2004) The emotional abuse of elite child athletes by their coaches. Child Abuse Review. 13, pp.215-223.

Hollander, E. B., Meyers, M. C. & LeUnes, A. (1995) Psychological factors associated with over-training: Implications for youth sport coaches. Journal of Sport Behaviour. 18, pp.3-20.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical Commission (2004) Consensus Statement on Training the Elite Child Athlete [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed: 04/01/2008].

Kerr, G. A., Berman, E. & De Souza, M. J. (2006) Disordered eating in women’s gymnastics: Perspectives of athletes, coaches, parents, and judges. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 18, pp.28-43.

Myers, J. & Barrett, B. (2002) In at the Deep End: A New Insight for all Sports from Analysis of Child Abuse Within Swimming. London, NSPCC.

Salguero, A., Gonzalez-Boto, R., Tuero, C. & Marquez, S. (2003) Identification of dropout reasons in young competitive swimmers. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 43 (4), pp.530-534.

Sharma, P., Luscombe, K. L. & Maffulli, N. (2003) Sports injuries in children. Trauma. 5, pp.245-259.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994) Risk and trigger factors for the development of eating disorders in female elite athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 26, pp.414-419.

Sundgot-Borgen, J., Fasting, K., Brackenridge, C., Torstveit, M. K. & Berglund, B. (2003) Sexual harassment and eating disorders in female elite athletes: A controlled study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 13, pp.330-335.

Tofler, R., Stryer, B. K., Micheli, L. J. & Herman, L. R. (1996) Physical and emotional problems of elite female gymnasts. New England Journal of Medicine. 335 (4), pp.281-283.

Wolstencroft, E. (2002) Talent Identification and Development: An Academic Review. Edinburgh, Sport Scotland.

World Health Organisation (WHO) (1998) Sports and children: Consensus statement on organised sport for children.  Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. 76 (5), pp.445-447.

Melanie Lang

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