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Creating a thriving environment: An ethnographic exploration of a decentralized Olympic and Paralympic sport organization

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Success is a primary concern for elite sport organizations with implications for athlete selection, coach and support staff employment, and sport organization access to funding. This can create environments that prioritise success, often to the detriment of athlete well-being. However, research has highlighted the potential to promote performance and well-being concurrently, rather than as isolated experiences (i.e., thriving). Therefore, this study aimed to further our understanding of thriving by exploring the environmental factors within a decentralized Olympic and Paralympic sporting organisation that influence athletes’ joint experiences of high performance and well-being. As sustained performance and well-being in elite athletes are dependent on the support of multidisciplinary teams, conducting an ethnography allowed for the perspectives of all stakeholders to be included (e.g., athletes, coaches, support staff, performance directors). Using content analysis of data gathered over a sixteen month period (e.g., observations, interviews, reflections), three main themes were generated relating to the creation of thriving environments in elite sport. Firstly, coaches formed the pillars of the training and competition environments through honest, authentic, and personalized leadership that allowed for a deep understanding of the athletes as individuals. Secondly, the athletes wished to be viewed as elite performers, with an expressed desire for their physical environment, access to support staff and organizational support to be reflective of this wish. Lastly, the athletes appreciated motivating and encouraging environments that broke up the monotony of training, characterized by challenge (e.g., pressure training, competition simulations) and perceived high levels of support. This ethnography provides an original, rigorous, and in-depth account of the environmental factors that influence athletes’ thriving by incorporating the rich and contextualized perspectives of multiple stakeholders. The practical implications of these novel findings are discussed, offering a better understanding of how sport organizations can create environments that facilitate thriving in their athletes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020
Event35th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology - Virtual
Duration: 21 Oct 202024 Oct 2020

Conference

Conference35th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology
Period21/10/2024/10/20

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