Nowadays, the majority of athletes advance their elite sporting careers while attending university or university college. During this dual career (DC) ‘elite sport and higher education’ pathway, student-athletes are not only confronted with athletic and academic requirements but also face concurrently (and possible conflicting) requirements at the psychological, psychosocial, and financial levels of development. In order to overcome these multi- level demands and achieve the desired athletic and academic outcomes, student-athletes require effective competencies. This PhD study addresses some of the gaps in the existing, mainly qualitative research on student-athletes’ DC demands, competencies and outcomes using quantitative investigations.
An instrument was developed to examine student-athletes’ DC demands and competencies across different nations, sports, and DC systems. The Dual Career Competency Questionnaire for Athletes (DCCQ-A) measured 3,441 European student-athletes’ importance awarded to and possession of 38 competencies required for a successful DC, as well as their coping with seven challenging DC scenarios that represented a holistic perspective on demands across different levels of development (e.g., an exam coinciding with an important competition, combining sport and studies with social life).
Findings revealed that student-athletes’ competencies could be categorized in four higher-order competencies important for a successful DC: Dual Career management, Career Planning, Emotional Awareness, and Social Intelligence & Adaptability. Female student-athletes awarded higher importance to their competencies, reported a stronger possession of Dual Career Management, and evaluated a stronger need to develop their Emotional Awareness in comparison with their male counterparts. The DC scenarios were experienced by the majority of student-athletes, who prioritized different competencies in function of the scenario they were confronted with. Student-athletes’ strong possession of key prioritized competencies was positively related with effective coping.
Finally, the academic outcomes of 111 elite athletes studying at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel were monitored. One student-athlete in three dropped out of their DC during the first three years. Five risk groups of student-athletes were identified who demonstrated higher academic dropout rates, lower study efficiency, and declines in study efficiency over time.
Findings help understand the challenging holistic and developmental nature of a DC pathway, and emphasize the importance of student-athletes’ wide range of competencies to successfully manage the multi-level requirements of their DC. The need for a situational (i.e., in function of the upcoming demands) and individual approach to student-athletes’ competency development is stressed. This PhD study contributes to a deeper understanding of student-athletes’ demands, competencies and outcomes, and poses significant implications for DC stakeholders.