Understanding the elite youth soccer athlete : a case study approach to the environment of the U.S. Olympic Development Program at the state level
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Contemporary work on talent development has mostly focused on the individual athlete and their micro environment. This research uses a holistic ecological approach to examine a specific soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP) at state level. ODP has historically been successful in developing elite youth athletes that transition to senior level sport. The approach highlights the central role of the environment as it affects the development of athletes and brings forth the complexity of talent development in the U.S. context. The athletic talent development environment (ATDE) is considered holistically, using a framework that analyzes micro and macro levels, athletic and non-athletic domains, and a set of factors that help explain the factors that lead to success. Specifically, the ATDE model and the ESF model, provide a framework that leads to heavy description of the environment and helps in summarizing the factors that contribute to success. One of the main objectives of this study was situating results within the previously found common and unique features of other successful ATDE’s. To further test the holistic ecological approach to ATDE’s, this study chose a research setting vastly different to previously studied environments and focused on a single case study to provide more depth to the overall understanding of the environment. Principal methods of data collection included interviews, participant observation, and analysis of data and documents pertinent to the environment. Using the results as a basis, empirical versions of the working models were created for ODP that captured the specific features of the environment. Results revealed that the ODP environment shared a number of characteristics with past ATDE’s examined but also had numerous unique factors. This study represents a step forward in this research area as it varied from past studies by presenting an ATDE in a vastly different setting, focused on a team sport, and it examined a system that has not been analyzed through in-depth qualitative methods. A major objective of this research was to also produce information that can currently be applied to the ODP system in order to improve the talent development system. The holistic ecological approach proved to be a valuable approach to revealing central factors and challenges associated with recruitment, retention, and transition of athletes in ODP as well as the overall U.S. soccer system.
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