Growing pains: Positive growth following deselection in youth sport

  • Kacey C Neely Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta
  • Tara-Leigh F McHugh Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta
  • Nicholas L Holt Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta

Abstract

Research on deselection suggests that certain coping strategies may provide an opportunity for athletes to experience psychological and emotional growth following deselection (Neely & Holt, 2015). The purpose of this study was to explore the potential for positive psychological and emotional growth following deselection from provincial sport teams by examining (a) former competitive female adolescent athletes' memories of deselection, and (b) how and what they learned from their experiences of deselection. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 young women (Mage = 22.73 years, SD = 1.35) who had competed in competitive youth sport as adolescents and were deselected from a provincial soccer (n=9), ice hockey (n=5), or volleyball (n=1) team between the ages of 14 and 17 years. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis methodology (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009) was used. Findings demonstrated that athletes experienced positive growth in several domains of growth described by Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996). Deselection was remembered as a negative and often devastating experience that caused participants to question their ability and identity as an athlete. However, positive growth occurred for athletes through experiencing humility, re-establishing sport as their main priority, social support, gaining perspective, and being generally optimistic about future sport opportunities. Through these processes athletes developed compassion for others, gained motivation and perseverance, and learned how to cope with setbacks in other aspects of their lives. This study highlights some of the potential long-term implications of deselection in adolescent sport. Ways in which parents, sport psychology consultants, and coaches can potentially help support positive psychological and emotional growth in athletes following deselection are proposed.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by the Killam Trusts and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.