The role of psychological characteristics in facilitating the pathway to elite performance among north american cross country skiers


The purpose of this study was to explore the developmental pathways of elite North American Cross-Country skiers (i.e., ranked in the top 30 internationally by the FIS) to identify psychosocial elements that characterized their progression through an international competitive career. Eight female and four male ski racers participated in semi-structured timeline interviews, including questions that encouraged reflection on each athlete's career development experiences. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using an integrative approach featuring narrative analysis to explore individual pathways, paired with thematic analysis to examine the sample as a whole. The trajectory towards elite status was unique for each athlete, and was punctuated by transitional experiences (described as high and low periods), which coincided with substantial leaps in expectations, and/or shifts in the competitive environment. As a group, athletes attributed their achievement to intrapersonal (trait) characteristics along with core periods where they developed attributes that underpinned autonomous motivation, a strong identity as an elite skier, and perceptions of personal resilience. Athletes also described how social-contextual and interpersonal factors such as peer interactions, consistent and inspirational coaching relationships, and the living environment contributed to an elite development pathway. The findings from this research feature two distinct types of insight. On one hand, themes from across all athletes reveal psychosocial factors that may distinguish the pathway of those who reach international level competition, and thrive in that environment. On the other hand, the unique trajectories that the participants took to reach this standard combine to create a richer perspective of elite athletes' achievement.

Acknowledgments: Acknowledgements to Cross Country Canada for the funding and participation in this research. Also to the athletes of US Ski and Snowboard Association for their participation.