Dual Careers of Swedish University Student-Athletes : A Synthesis of Holistic Developmental and Ecological Approaches

Abstract: The Swedish dual career (DC) system has a history of providing support at the gymnasium/upper secondary level since the early 1970s. Since 2012, there has been a call from the European Union to member states to develop a support provision throughout athletes’ DCs based on national research. In 2015, the Swedish DC system was expanded to include the university level. Completed in parallel with this development, the aim of this PhD Project has been to study the DC experiences of Swedish university student-athletes from the holistic developmental and the holistic ecological approaches, and to develop a framework for DC support at university level in Sweden. The dissertation is designed as a collection of four studies, with one article per study. In Study I (part of the Erasmus+ project Gold in Education and Elite Sport; GEES), Swedish university student-athletes’ personal resources and coping strategies, known also as DC competences, are explored in relation to challenging DC scenarios (e.g., Miss days of study). Findings for example showed a general need to develop competences to cope successfully with the DC. In Study II the move from exploring demands across student-athletes’ levels of development to integration of demands in DC scenarios, as initiated in the GEES-project, was continued. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six student-athletes with the aim to identify DC scenarios that influenced university student-athletes’ DC balance and factors involved in the coping process. Seven scenarios were identified. An updated definition of DC scenarios and their taxonomy was suggested. Study III (part of the Erasmus+ project Ecology of Dual Career) shifted the attention from the individual to the environment and explored the features of a successful DC development environment (DCDE) at a Swedish university from the holistic ecological approach. The structure and key relationships in the DCDE, for example, coach-to-student-athlete, and the factors influencing the DCDE effectiveness, for example, a DC-support team with a shared DC philosophy, were described.Study IV combined the holistic ecological and holistic developmental approaches through a mixed-methods case study to describe how a DCDE at a Scandinavian university facilitated their student-athletes’ DC transition. The findings suggested that effective DCDEs work to meet student-athletes’ needs by helping them to develop DC competences to create and maintain an optimal DC balance.This PhD Project contributes to the DC research and assistance within the athlete career sport psychology discourse and to the knowledge basis for the continued development of the Swedish DC system. Derived from Studies I-IV and related research, the DC assistance (DCA) framework is presented integrating whole person, whole career, and whole environment perspectives. The DCA framework is aimed at guiding professional DC practice towards helping student-athletes develop and maintain optimal DC balance to facilitate their striving for career excellence, and by means contribute to more sustainable DCs for student-athletes across Swedish sports universities.