Emerging in a bubble: Exploring the transition to adulthood in sport canada carded athletes


Emerging adulthood, as a relatively new theory of development, refers to the phase of life that young people go through between the ages of 18 and 29 (Arnett, 2000). It is generally defined as the age of identity explorations, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and sensing possibilities for the future (Arnett, 2004). With Canada's top athletes spending close to 40 hours per week training and rating sport as the most important aspect of their lives (Ekos Research Associates, 2005), the question arises whether such devotion impacts their transition to adulthood. Accordingly, the present study aimed to examine this transition in high performance athletes. As part of a larger study, semi-structured interviews of Sport Canada carded athletes and of students from a Canadian university were qualitatively analyzed to examine identity development, conceptions and perceptions of markers of adulthood, themes of emerging adulthood, and importance of vocational setting. Results indicated an overall likeness between high performance athletes and their non-athlete peers, with some notable differences. In comparison to university students, athletes indicated that their transition to adulthood was incomplete so long as they remained within what they characterized as the "bubble" of high performance sport. These findings largely support emerging adulthood as a valid theory of development, and maintain the view that the complete transition to adulthood and identity formation can be challenging given sport's push for commitment and conformity (Pearson & Petitpas, 1990). The discussion will focus on how transitioning to adulthood may be a unique process for Canadian high performance athletes.

Acknowledgments: This study received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.