Children’s experiences and constructions of playing early specialization stage football in an elite professional club academy

Nicola Clarke, Loughborough University, United Kingdom

Theme: Youth sport

Program ID: SYM-05

Presentation: October 3, 2013 8:15 am - 9:30 am

Room: Melrose


According to Bronfenbrenner's (1979) bioecological systems theory, children’s experiences and development are influenced by the sport environment and interactions with significant others. Despite the current interest in how sport can enhance positive youth development, first-person accounts of children’s experiences of social interactions within specific sport contexts are rare. The purpose of this study was to explore elite youth footballers’ experiences of a professional academy, and how children construct their experiences through interaction with peers. Focus group interviews were held with 16 youth football players registered to an English professional club academy. Groups of four children aged 8 to 10 years participated in four 20 to 44 minute interviews (M = 30) during which they were asked to describe what is it like and what it means to play football at an academy. Open questions and a variety of interactive activities were used to prompt discussion. Using a phenomenological approach, a two-stage analysis of the experiential and interactional aspects of the interviews offered a number of key findings. Children agreed that it was essential for academy players to work hard to keep developing, although interpretations of why this was important varied. Being selected to an academy meant that players understood they were identified as talented, and constructed a hierarchy differentiating professional clubs from local leagues. Model academy players were constructed as mirroring professional footballers’ behaviours and training as much as possible to improve, which in turn limited the children’s capacity to keep a balanced lifestyle. Concepts of identity, discourse, relationships and situated meaning are used to interpret findings, and implications for the design and delivery of youth football programmes are proposed. In addition, reflections on adapting focus group techniques and the usefulness of this method for research with children are provided

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