Challenge and Growth on the Talent Development Pathway

Savage, Jennifer (2019) Challenge and Growth on the Talent Development Pathway. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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As successful elite athletes develop they are likely to encounter and overcome various challenges. It has recently been argued that performers benefit from challenges and even need them during development (c.f. Collins & MacNamara, 2012). The aim of this thesis was to have a greater understanding of the role of challenge and the potential beneficial impact on a performers’ development. To deepen knowledge in this area, Chapter 4 explored perceived traumas (i.e. memorable challenges) in the development of twenty senior-international performers with a multi-methods, temporal-based design. Results showed perceived traumas were primarily sports-based, recognized from onset of investment, associated with immediately negative but ultimately positive impact, and negotiated through skills that were brought to, rather than generated by, these experiences. The findings provide an interesting contrast to messages in other early trauma-focused research and promote focus on the process and mechanisms of responding to and recovering from traumatic experiences. In line with previous research, a range of skills were identified to facilitate performers’ negotiation of trauma. Despite a range of psychological skills identified in research as typically being utilised to cope with and grow from such trauma how these skills helped them cope with challenge was yet to be explored. Accordingly, Chapter 5 explored the role of psych-behavioural skills in negotiating developmental trauma through semi-structured interviews. It was subsequently found that psycho-behavioural skills supported a sense of perspective, control, and confidence, all of which contributed to a predominantly constructive rather than illusory growth process. In this way, these findings further our understanding of skills-based development and how they not only support growth. Notably, this Chapter indicates a link between use of psycho-behavioural skills and constructive growth. Building on these findings, Chapter 6 considers a current gap in literature to date of retrospective investigations, by providing a more ecologically valid examination of how performers experienced and managed challenge. Accordingly, Chapter 6 longitudinally tracked 6 elite performers as they experienced challenge on their development pathway. This investigation identified performers’ responses to challenge and associated stages of growth. Additionally, mechanisms which enabled growth and key factors of the role of the psychologist where recognised. This investigation provides key applied implications for practitioners supporting performers to facilitate growth and empower the performer to take the lead- supportive rather than directive. Overall, as outlined in Chapter 7, this thesis provides a unique and in-depth study of the role of trauma/challenge in the development of talent. Critically, it provides distinct applied recommendations to support performers’ development and equip them, with the relevant honed skills required to reach their performance potential.

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