Exploring the continuity of sport participation: The role of community clubs in the sport development process


Athletes often face various life and athletic transitions, which can lead to a decline in or withdrawal from sport participation (e.g., Freysinger & Ray, 1994; Wyllemann & Lavallee, 2004).  In Canada, the most significant decline in sport participation occurs between the ages of 15 to 24 years (Statistics Canada, 2012), as individuals graduate from secondary school, post-secondary education, and/or enter the workforce. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of community sport clubs in facilitating participation in the sport of rugby union in a large Canadian city, with a specific focus on the transition from youth to adult sport. The study examined: (a) athletes’ (n=8) perspectives of the psychosocial factors that influenced their initial involvement and continued participation on a community sport club, and (b) administrators’ (n=7) perspectives of the role of community clubs in facilitating sport development and the continuity of sport participation into adulthood. Data was collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews and the constant comparative method was used for analysis. Findings highlight the importance of developing partnerships between schools and community sport clubs, and the particular influence of coaches and peers on continued participation in structured competitive sports following graduation from formal education. In addition, study findings offer implementation strategies to support athletes’ seamless transitioning from youth to adult sport (e.g., providing opportunities for youth to play, train and socialize with senior players). Findings also reveal factors that can enhance athletes’ club loyalty and sport commitment (e.g., club atmosphere, team mates, identity, and skill development). Findings are discussed in the context of practical implications (e.g., community sport clubs’ strategic planning) and future research directions (e.g., examining different sporting environments).