The influence of contextual features on the nature of high school athletes' developmental experiences


Previous research has demonstrated that youth can benefit in numerous ways from their participation in high school sport, but that negative outcomes can also occur and undesirably impact their development. Although research in this area has been conducted under the umbrella term high school sport, few studies have deliberately examined the contextual features of where high school sport participation occurred. The purpose of this study was to examine former high school athletes’ perspectives on how the context in which high school sports were practiced influenced their developmental experiences. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 individuals (10 males, 12 females) between 18 and 56 years of age. Findings from an inductive thematic analysis revealed how practicing high school sport in an urban setting compared to a rural setting can significantly influence the nature of participants’ developmental experiences. For example, participants in rural settings discussed how most sports were only offered in an organized manner in high schools and, as such, high school sport was often the highest competitive level available. In contrast, for many participants in urban settings, high school sports were practiced concurrently with club sports. Participants involved in both sporting contexts discussed how they perceived high school sport as more recreational and club sports as more competitive. Overall, the findings from the current study add to the literature by illustrating how community size and geographical location represent important variables that can influence how competition level and personal effort are perceived by the participants. The findings add further support to the notion that sport is not a single entity and that future research efforts must consider contextual features to better explain the development that occurs through sport.