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Elite athletes and higher education : lifestyle, “balance” and the management of sporting and educational performance

Henry, Ian

This paper addresses the relationship between elite athlete performance and engagement in higher education. This is an increasingly important issue as the demands placed on elite athletes in general and Olympic athletes in particular have continued to intensify, while at the same time the prerequisites for careers in terms of formal educational and vocational qualifications in many countries have also experienced ‘creeping credentialism’. Addressing this problem requires the engagement of a range of stakeholders: from sport, athletes, coaches, National Governing Bodies of Sport, youth development bodies from professional sport; from education, universities, schools and other providers; and from government, both national and in some instances transnational bodies. Thus the complexity of the institutional infrastructure represents a challenge for those who wish to defend the educational rights of young elite sportsmen and sportswomen. The analysis developed in this paper draws on the findings of four studies and deals with the three following sets of issues: - What are individual nation-states and their educational institutions doing in relation to ensuring that elite athletes may maintain access to educational opportunities? How can their different approaches be characterised? - Why do many athletes choose to maintain an educational career while still striving to perform at the highest level? To what extent are these activities antipathetic or complementary? - What should be the role (and what are the rights and responsibilities) of the key stakeholders in the elite sport-higher education sectors (governments, universities, athletes, national federations etc.)?


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