To be successful in the majority of Olympic sports effectively means that a full time commitment is needed from the athletes. A co-ordinated, integrated system is essential to sustain the production of excellence in sport. Lyle's (1997) research has shown that such a sports system does not exist in the UK and that, the efficient and effective management of the elite level sport is impossible as a consequence of this. Elite and also development level athletes should be surrounded by a performance programme that includes coaching, training and competition support, medical and scientific services and access to the best facilities that the UK has to offer (UK Sport, 2013). UK Sport have a mission to enhance the performance pathways in the UK and they are focusing on undertaking innovative research projects to gain a greater understanding of the route to excellence in elite sport. Rhythmic gymnastics in the UK at the moment is a sport that is still fairly unpopular. Due to this and a lack of results in the sport has led to decreased funding and therefore no substantial development programmes. Great Britain's Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team have had to discontinue their training because of a lack of funding.
"Unfortunately the funding isn't sufficient so the group can't carry on anymore; it's because there's no programme available; if there was a group plan, then we would reconsider because everyone wants to compete." (Falkner, 2012).
At the present time in the UK the standard of rhythmic gymnastics is low with the highest ranking gymnast from Great Britain placing seventieth in the world (Longines OfficialÂ ResultsÂ Provider, 2011). This could be due to the amount of gymnasts discontinuing with the sport, some before they even reach senior level (16+), the age where they are able to participate in major competitions. A clear conceptual understanding of the issues involved within elite sport needs to be understood before structure and processes involved in the production of excellence can be implemented. Therefore the reasons for early drop out from elite sport need to be explored before any effective programme can be put in place.
Research has been defined as:
"Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover facts or principles" (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight, 2001, p5).
Research starts off by asking some fundamental questions bound within a particular problem or area of interest. From observation it has been noted that rhythmic gymnasts in the UK exit the sport early, before they reach their full potential. The reasons for this need to be discovered before any interventions to keep them in sport can be put in place. The importance of research to the area of sport is a vital part of making advances in the field.
Possible Research Question:
Reasons for early drop from sport amongst international level, female rhythmic gymnasts in the UK.
Reviewing the Literature
The following research proposal looks at the reasons for early drop out from competitive sport, with the focus being on rhythmic gymnastics. Throughout the years, the development of performance in elite sport requires the ability to cope with increasingly strenuous workloads and the ability to handle tough competitions (Enoksen, 2011). Some sports now require early specialisation (Baker, 2003) and this in turn involves careful planning of training programmes. Athletes have to cope with the stresses of competitive sport whilst handling everyday necessities such as school or work. This applies pressure to the individual and if they cannot cope, these requirements together may lead to early dropout from sport. Swain (1991) suggests that withdrawal from competitive sport can only be understood as a complex problem.
According to Klint and Weiss (1986) there are three types of competitive sports dropouts:
The reluctant dropouts are athletes who are forced to quit their sport due to illness, injury or an athletic programme that is too much for them. Voluntary dropouts want to engage in other interests and activities and, resistant dropouts weight up the costs and benefits of being involved in competitive sport and if the costs of participation are greater they will dropout.
The literature suggests that there are many different reasons why athletes drop out from sport early. One of the most prominent reasons is that of the demanding training programmes that the athletes undertake and the now more evident need for early specialisation in sport. Gould and Udry (1996) state that, sport specialisation at a young age can equate in increases in training, overly large amounts of repetition, and high expectations of performance. Athletes are involved in deliberate practice very early on in their career. This has been linked with expert performance but is also closely linked with dropout (Cote & Wall, 2007). Specialising too early in one activity could have a negative impact on the sociological and psychological development of the athlete (Wiersma, 2000). Elite rhythmic gymnasts start training for long hours at an early age and start competing at international level as early as 12 years old. This means that due to this high level of performance, stresses are placed upon the gymnasts at an early age. Early stresses may also increase the risk of injury which is another reason in itself for some athletes to drop out too early in their career.
Another of the reasons may be education or work obligations. Balancing either of these with an athletic career and the demands that sport has, can be extremely difficult. Educational obligations are a particularly prominent issue as gymnasts reach elite level as early as sixteen years old because gymnastics is an early specialisation sport. Some individuals wish to concentrate their efforts towards educational development and feel that sport may inhibit the level at which they can do this. This is where individuals tend to weigh up the benefits and costs of sport and end up choosing between the two. Also with the heavy training schedule and balancing education/work requirements there is little time for social activities. Some athletes feel that they want to spend more time with their friends and have a more active social life. Fraser-Thomas, Cote and Deakin (2007) highlight in their study that having a group of friends who are also involved in the sport and understand the stresses of it, reduces the likelihood of dropout. Having friends outside of sport who are not involved in sport in any way would only provide social distractions. Patrick et al. (1999) suggests that when an athlete's social development conflicts with their involvement within sport, motivation to their sport decreases. The opportunity to take part in other activities is limited due to the time dedicated to training in gymnastics. Klint and Weiss (1986) interviewed gymnasts in their study and found that a lot of the gymnasts left the sport because they wanted to do other things. They felt that the amount of commitment needed in gymnastics caused them to miss other social opportunities.
An individual's motivational level will also influence whether they want to stay within sport. Achieving goals is an important motivational aspect (Ames, 1992) and athletes need goals to strive to improve performance. If the only goal a child has it to win and be the best whist showing superiority, they may drop out. There is always only one winner and the majority are not which could explain dropouts. Boys are concerned with the outcome of their performance and girls are more concerned with the quality (Whitehead, 1993). Due to this boys will like competition more than girls. Rhythmic gymnastics in the UK at the moment is a sport for girls only so to reduce dropout rates, coaches would need to reduce the competitive pressure and be more concerned with individual achievement goals. Plus if an athlete has achieved their goals of feels that they cannot reach them, they may no longer want to continue in the sport (Whitehead, 1993) so goals need to be continuous and attainable. Children may then want to partake in other activities as a result of this loss of motivation. Another point is that an athlete's social training environment needs to be positive. Good relationships with peers and especially their coach is a vital component, and this may influence choices that the athlete may make. Research has shown that a negative social environment and lack of support can often lead to early departure from sport (Enoksen, 2011).
Gould et al. (1982) looked at reasons for discontinuing involvement in competitive youth swimming. He found that the highest reported reasons for leaving sport were, not being as good as the athlete wanted, not having fun, having other things to do and not liking the pressure of elite sport. The reasons for discontinuing involvement in competitive rhythmic gymnastics could be similar to these findings. At the end of Fraser-Thomas, Cote and Deakin's (2008) research examining adolescent sport dropout, they suggest that future research should look into whether their findings apply to other sports. In this research the aim will be to find out what the reasons are for early drop out in rhythmic gymnastics. It is important to look at what could be done to keep these girls involved within the sport until they reach their peak. The information found in this research could be extremely important when planning future training programmes and learning experiences for athletes striving for excellence in the future.
This research will be qualitative as it aims to find qualities that are not quantifiable (Gratton & Jones, 2004). It will try to understand feelings, thoughts and experiences and will use analytical/explanatory attempts to analyse and explain why intended research observation is happening (Smith, 2010). In qualitative research the perspective of the participants can be explored which will produced data that is rich and deep. However a disadvantage of this type of data collection is that the findings can sometimes rely too much on the views of the researcher about what data is important and significant (Bryman, 2008). This is because the questions often start open-ended and gradually narrow down to ask questions about their observation of what the research problem is.
The study will look at international level, female rhythmic gymnasts from the UK. The focus of the study will be to look at the dropout reasons for these individuals who have highly invested themselves within the sport.
The participants used will need to meet the following criteria:
Aged between 13 - 18.
Involved competitively for a minimum of 5 years.
Have competed for Great Britain or England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
Involved in a minimum of 20 hours training per week.
This sample age has been set to eliminate younger participants who have not yet been long enough in the sport, and older participants who may have already reached their peak and naturally moved on. They will need to have been involved competitively, and they will need to have coped with the amount of hours training involved because these are the demands of the sport.
Previous studies concentrating on dropout have usually used questionnaires to assess reasons for quitting sport early. According to Fraser-Thomas, Cote and Deakin (2008) this is a methodology that is labelled 'superficial' and 'subjective' by some researchers. They suggest using a retrospective interview procedure. Within the study the aim will be to interview 8 - 12 international ex athletes who have dropped out early from the sport. Using interviews to do the research gives the researcher the ability to explore the points of view of the research subject (Miller & Glassner, 2004). Qualitative interviewing is flexible and can respond to the direction in which the subjects will take (Bryman, 2008). Therefore the research can explore deeper meanings that quantitative research cannot. Also if the interviewer is known to the interviewees then they may feel more comfortable talking. This will be the case in this research and it can be an advantage because if the participants are relaxed they could be more willing to share their personal experiences and views. The ability to be able to empathise with the participant is vital and it is the belief of some researchers that the relationship between the researcher and interviewee is crucial to the success of the research (Long, 2008). The interviews to be undertaken will be semi-structured. A list of questions will be will be generated but as the questions will be open-ended the interviewee will have a lot of leeway in the way in which they are able to respond.
Within the research design ethical issues need to be considered. The question is whether the research design is socially and morally acceptable (Gratton & Jones, 2004). Ethical approval for the research project needs to be granted by the University of Hertfordshire. The project will require the collation of primary data (via interviews) from human subjects so an application to seek ethical approval from the School of Life and Medical Sciences needs to be completed and then approved before research can start. It is needed to ensure that the research design is appropriate and ethical, to safeguard participants, to protect the researcher and also the university against litigation. A significant ethical question is whether the research being carried out offers value sufficient to justify participation (DuBois, 2006). A study that would not offer any value from the research would be considered unethical as no benefits would come from it. The study would waste participant's time and maybe resources. This research would be of value because it could provide recommendations for future rhythmic gymnastics development plans. The finding could provide answers to what has to be done to combat the early dropout rate from the sport and therefore enabling gymnasts to reach their full potential.
There are a number of forms to be completed in the ethics application. These forms need to be completed and given to the supervisor who can then submit them to the ethics committee. For this research it is expected that the application will go for a full review which will require the full ethics committee to review the application. This is because this research will be of higher risk as it requires interview with minors. All interviews will be conducted via telephone calls or meeting with the athletes where consent forms will be required to be completed prior to the interview. There are a few risks of qualitative interviews in behavioural and social science. These may be a loss of confidentiality due to the recording of the interview and level of biographical detail, response bias (e.g. wanting to please the interviewer) and the unstructured design of the interview can make informed consent difficult (Hadjistavropoulos & Smythe 2001).
It should also be noted that the university's health and safety policy and codes of practice should be adhered to when carrying out research. This policy is to ensure good practice and the recommended procedure should be followed. Completion of the risk assessment form is mandatory so that these health and safety procedures are complied with. There are three protocols of safe working:
PoSW 2.1 Use of minors
PoSW 2.2 Interviews and Focus Groups
PoSW 2.3 Conducting Research Off-Campus
A letter of permission is also needed as the research is to be completed off university campus. Finally when the research project is complete there will be an 'end of research' form to be completed. The researcher and the supervisor will need to sign the work off as being in accord with ethical principles.