The bright lights of spectator filled stadiums, televised events, world-class facilities, committed coaching teams, and substantial scholarships have turned the heads of many young talented athletes in the UK and around the world. This is offered by the NCAA and the American Collegiate system. However, the American student-athlete experience includes much more than just sport. This route also offers an alternative education system which is integrated with the athletic programme, and unique life experiences of living abroad. Consequently, the American route is one viable option for many athletes wanting to pursue high-level sport and an education.
Despite this American dream, stories have also emerged of the potential reality. The challenge of adapting to a new training environment is often added to by the intense training schedules, directive coaching approaches, and the culture of sport as a business. Additionally, when their expectations of the experience are not met, it can be difficult for athletes to be (literally) oceans away from their families and support teams. As a consequence, there are reports of UK athletes returning home with burnout or injury.
While the United States (US) might present an appealing opportunity to athletes, the risks have raised concerns for practitioners and national governing bodies (NGBs) in the UK. Practitioners are, therefore, left to question: What is their role in supporting athletes’ decision-making? Should they promote the US route due to the athletic development benefits, but at the risk of losing athletes to burnout or injury? Or should they be encouraging athletes to remain in the UK, where they can be more closely supported by their NGB?
From research conducted by TASS, despite the US collegiate system presenting valuable sporting and life opportunities, it has become clear that many athletes are underprepared for the transition. This research also investigated different approaches taken by NGBs towards this route. The findings suggested that policies to discourage athletes away from colleges in America were ineffective. Athletes still pursued their options in the US, but did so with less information to make their decision.
Policies to support athlete decision-making were seen to have better outcomes for athletes. Furthermore, policies to prepare athletes for the transition and continue NGB support during their time in the US had the best outcomes for both the athlete, who was able to develop athletically and gain life experiences of college sport, and the NGBs, who were more likely to retain athletes for the national team (both during and after the US experience) and were able to intervene if athletes became injured.
To support practitioners to take a more proactive approach to working with athletes considering or in a US college, TASS have produced a practitioner guide. The guide offers information and tools that coaches, lifestyle advisors, and other NGB staff can use to support athletes to make informed decisions, and support athletes during their time in the US.
The guide can be accessed via the below link: https://www.tass.gov.uk/resource/4104/