Socioeconomic factors in high performance athlete development


Parents play an influential role during athlete development, providing a range of different types of support, including financial resources. Previous studies of general sport participation suggest unequal opportunities for youth who come from lower income families; however, few studies have examined how measures of socioeconomic status (SES) differ between athletes who achieve different levels of attainment. This study assessed whether measures of SES (i.e., parent education) differed by athletes’ skill level. A retrospective design examined 229 athletes from Australia (n = 154) and Canada (n = 75) including 79 males and 150 females with a mean age of 23.28 years (SD = 4.79 years). All athletes had to have reached their highest expected level of competition, which allowed them to be classified into three distinct skill groups: elite (n = 139), pre-elite (n = 33), and non-elite (n = 57). Participants completed the Developmental History of Athletes Questionnaire, which addresses a range of potential influences on sport expertise, including parental characteristics. Differences between skill groups were examined using chi-square tests. The association between parental level of education and skill level was found to be significant [χ2 (4) = 12.11, p = .02; w = 0.22]. It was found that a greater than expected number of non-elite athletes reported the highest level of education reached by either parent as secondary school or less, while fewer than expected non-elite athletes reported the highest level of education reached by either parent as ‘some post-secondary education’. When comparing mothers’ and fathers’ levels of education independently, there was no significant effect for mothers’ education [χ2 (4) = 5.69, p = 0.23] however fathers’ education approached significance [χ2 (4) = 8.17, p = 0.09]. These results suggests an association between parent education, particularly father’s education, and skill level.