Investigation of the challenges facing student-athletes in Irish higher education

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Gomez, Jean-Francois
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University College Cork
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The student-athlete in the Higher Education system is confronted by multiple challenges and has to be able to manage successfully various spheres (academic, sport, social, psychological…). A wealth of academic research has investigated the student-athlete in North America; however, the same cannot be said about the research conducted among student-athletes in Higher Education in the Republic of Ireland. Drawing on a mixed method approach (initially with a qualitative method via a series of interviews, then with the integration of a self-report measure questionnaire), this doctoral thesis aims to provide a specific understanding on how student-athletes are able to balance the various struggles they will encounter while endeavouring to successfully study and compete at the same time. The purpose of the first study aimed at investigating the challenges of combining high-level sport with academic demands. A series of interviews with nine elite student-athletes (three females, six males) indicated that each student-athletes had developed and adopted various distinct approach towards training management. Most of the student-athletes interviewed experienced different levels of setback in their study and athletic performance due to overtraining or burnout. This study highlighted the need to create a dedicated support network in order to educate and empower student-athletes and coaches. As these struggles are multi-layered and specific to the student-athlete persona, the second study of this doctoral thesis is a longitudinal study aimed at monitoring student-athletes stress and recovery levels over an academic semester. The aim of this study was to provide an insight into the various stressors affecting the stress recovery state of these student-athletes. Nine student-athletes (4 females, 5 males) completed the stress and recovery questionnaire from Kellmann et al. (2001) over the course of 12 weeks, which resulted in 108 filled in questionnaire. The results of this study were twofold: firstly, it indicated the student-athlete population having to face multiple stressors over the course of 12 weeks as the student-athletes taking part in this study were exposed (at key times) to high level of stress (conflicts/pressure, fatigue and emotional stress) and decreased level of recovery (which resulted in a state of under recovery and therefore potential overtraining). Secondly, the outcome of this study highlighted a lack of internal validity by some of the subscales and revealed the need to investigate the questionnaire used for this study and realign it in accordance with the Irish student-athlete population needs and specificity. The third study of this thesis investigated via statistical analysis, the reliability and suitability of the stress and recovery questionnaire used in the second study of this thesis. 174 student-athletes completed this questionnaire anonymously once. A Principal Component Analysis (PCA) followed by a Varimax rotation was used for the General and Sport Specific parts of the questionnaire. The results of this study indicated a lack of suitability of some of the subscales and suggested an improved model fit suitable to the Irish student-athlete population. The fourth and final study aimed at capitalising on these findings by examining and validate via a statistical analysis the improved model fit suggested in the previous chapter of this study. In order to conduct a new and independent study, a new sample of 165 student-athletes filled in the 39 questions, 12 subscales of the new model fit questionnaire suggested in the previous chapter. An Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) with maximum likelihood was conducted to verify the adequate loading of the subscales across the stress and recovery structure and the strength of the correlations between the subscales. The results of this statistical analysis indicated an acceptable level of internal consistency and a satisfactory factorial validity of the 12 subscales. In accordance with the current academic research, the subscales showed relevance and sensitivity to some of the main stressors affecting the student-athletes therefore indicating the suitability of this self-report monitoring instrument adapted to the student-athlete.
Student-athletes , Irish higher education , Stress and recovery , Time management , Self-report questionnaire , Wellbeing
Gomez, J-F. 2019. Investigation of the challenges facing student-athletes in Irish higher education. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.