Being a top athlete is demanding. Athletes who also study at the same time walk a tightrope between the intensive training and competition required to perform in their sport while concomitantly pursuing studies. Only a small number of high-potential athletes evolve into elite athletes. It is therefore crucial for talented athletes to invest in a Dual Career, building their educational career path at the same time as their sport career, if they are to reach their full potential and prepare for their future when their competitive sports period comes to an end.
Migration across borders in the European Union is a requirement in many elite sports and poses a fundamental challenge for Dual Career athletes. The various legislative frameworks that apply to both the sports and education sectors across Europe create a huge diversity. There is no central Dual Career policy in place, and agreements and initiatives vary between and within individual sports and educational institutions. Existing support structures are not capable of overcoming exchange difficulties. More so, insufficient support for migrating Dual Career athletes jeopardises their performance and retention in both education and sports.
Herbert Wagner and Philip X. Fuchs from the University of Salzburg, Austria, are tackling the obstacles of migration within the EU for Dual Career athletes with their EU-funded research project ‘Athletic migration: Dual Career and qualification in sports (AMiD)’. Together with their project partners, they are collecting scientific evidence and best practices and develop support structures for Dual Career migration within the EU.
The AMiD project partners comprise Laura Capranica and Laurence Blondel from the European Athlete as Student network (EAS) together with complementary academics: Heikki Hannola and Niko Niemisalo from the Lapland University of Applied Sciences; Cristina Cortis and Loriana Castellani from the University of Cassino e Lazio Meridionale; Jörg Förster, Patrice Giron, and Jakob Kuhnert from the University of Hamburg; Mojca Doupona and Marta Bon from the University of Ljubljana; along with non-academic organisations, including federations, clubs, and Olympic organisations in Austria, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, and Italy.
Objectives and activities
With the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union, the AMiD project has three key objectives. Firstly, to raise awareness and knowledge of the phenomenon of Dual Career migration. Secondly, to build a network and develop support structures for student-athletes migrating within the EU, including the implementation and evaluation of best practices. Thirdly, to provide good practices for governance and supply practical tools for stakeholders.
The AMiD researchers aim to expand their network, exchange best practices across European policies, and include representatives from national authorities in all participating organisations. This will enable AMiD to continue contributing to the standardisation of European education and sports measures long after the project’s time frame and extend beyond the participating organisations.
To achieve these objectives, the researchers examined the current Dual Career situation in Europe. This involved an extensive literature review together with the collection of current practices in all partner countries. With the help of Dual Career experts, they clarified definitions and characteristics of athletic migration. Factors were examined that included the place of migration, the reasons for migration being related to academics, sports, or both, and the level of both careers. Then, the researchers performed a questionnaire study which identified the challenges and needs of athletic migration and suggested potential improvement.
Practical actions to facilitate migration
Potential actions to support Dual Career athletes included the student-athletes making individual agreements with their professors regarding the classes and examinations that they are unable to attend due to long-distance travels to international competitions. This could include the provision of online material that could be accessed while travelling.
Raising awareness and usage of Dual Career organisations, together with expanding cooperation among different organisations would enhance the provision of support services for student-athletes. Implementing financial support is another mitigating factor. Furthermore, the survey revealed that offering peer-support and mentoring for daily life problems, as well as sport and academic issues, would facilitate the student-athletes’ smooth transition to the new environment.
Support services at national levels
The AMiD research team found that a wide range of Dual Career services is available. These include accommodation, Dual Career tutors, sports facilities, professional coaches, nutritional advisors, and health care services. The study also revealed the institutions’ committed efforts to improve Dual Career for student-athletes. The researchers note that the commonalities between universities offer opportunities for the potential merging and exchanging of support services for migrating athletes. Conversely, only two of the five universities offered the opportunity for e-learning, a fundamental requirement to enable migrating student-athletes to keep up with their educational commitments.
Identifying applicable support services
AMiD’s next step was to exchange and develop applicable support services. The researchers hypothesised that there would be differences in the migration experience of student-athletes with respect to gender, age, country, career levels, and characteristics of sports and migration. They surveyed a sample of 245 student-athletes (42% males and 58% females), evenly distributed between countries. Participants were engaged in both undergraduate and postgraduate studies and competed in a variety of sports. Most of the athletes (52%) had already experienced migration, and 28% did not intend to migrate. Gender had no major effect on the perceptions and the successful implementation of migration periods. Financial support was only available for 55% of the migrating student-athletes. The researchers found that migrating student-athletes consider academics and sports equally relevant. Most participants relocated for both academic and sports reasons, with 32% relocating for sports reasons and 25% for their education. The analysis revealed that the academic performance of female athletes was less likely to seriously decrease due to migration, whereas sports performance was less affected in males. Most of the migrating athletes did not receive any tutoring or counselling support.
The participants identified several Dual Career services that they would like to see developed. These included increasing student-athletes’ awareness of Dual Career service providers, developing collaboration between academic institution and sports bodies, establishing clear Dual Career policies and the provision of financial support.
The student-athletes appreciate the increase in their teachers’ awareness of Dual Career and suggested an increase in individualised study programmes, online study material, and flexible attendance in courses and examinations to support them at the academic level. At the sports level, they would like more organisational support for sports facilities and accommodation to facilitate their smooth transition into new training environments.
Experiences of Dual Career exchange athletes
To find out more about the challenges faced by international exchange student-athletes, detailed interviews were carried out. Each project partner recruited five student-athletes aged between 18 and 30 years with a sport commitment of at least 10 hours per week. Semi-structured non-standardised interviews were used to examine the experiences of Dual Career exchange athletes for previously unknown details about the challenges that student-athletes face when migrating in the EU. These interviews also explored how the provision of systematic support could resolve challenges.
Qualitative analysis of the transcripts revealed the problems faced by many Dual Career athletes migrating within the EU. This research suggests solutions, including a well-established network of professionals from the top sports and policies that further support stakeholders and facilitate large-scale research into the migration of elite athletes in the EU.
Many athletes taking part in the study thought that financial support would help them pursue their sports career, particularly those in higher expenses sports such as ski jumping, bobsleigh, and triathlon. However, most of the reported challenges were caused by limited organisation and coordination between sport and academic duties. These issues could be tackled by cost-efficient measures such as tutoring and counselling services, Dual Career coaching, and improved communication between sports and academic bodies. Participating student-athletes with the option of online study programmes reported greater flexibility that enables them to prioritise either sports or education depending on their individual situations. While the need for more flexibility is apparent, EU universities may be limited in what they can provide due to local and national laws.
The AMiD research team also recommend that the personal interests of exchange students are considered. Factors including homesickness and interpersonal problems can impact both academic and athletic performance. Opportunities for interpersonal support should be created for exchange students to identify and counteract the early stages of such personal challenges.
Having collected and exchanged good practices across Europe, the network of researchers has also identified opportunities to improve practices and raise governance standards. These practices have been implemented and tested in the participating organisations and involve migrating athletes from multiple countries. The evaluation of these practices and the development of a toolkit for stakeholders will provide strategies to enhance Dual Career migration across Europe.
- Athletic Migration in Dual Career WP1: Current situation of athlete migration in Europe. WP1 Report of the AMiD Project. Available at: https://blogi.eoppimispalvelut.fi/amid/files/2019/10/Report_WP1.pdf
- Athletic Migration in Dual Career WP2: Criteria for transnational Dual Career in Europe. WP2 Report of the AMiD Project. Available at: https://blogi.eoppimispalvelut.fi/amid/files/2019/10/Report_WP2.pdf
- Athletic Migration in Dual Career WP3: Transnational exchange opportunities for Dual Career measures for migrating athletes. WP3 Report of the AMiD Project. Available at: https://blogi.eoppimispalvelut.fi/amid/files/2020/09/Report_WP3.pdf
- Athletic Migration in Dual Career WP4: Testing (transnational) Dual Career measures for migrating athletes. WP4 Report of the AMiD Project. Available at: https://blogi.eoppimispalvelut.fi/amid/files/2020/09/WP4-final-report_06092020.pdf
- The AMiD Project (2018-2020): Overview and Findings. Presentation at the 17th European Athletes as Students Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Virtual Conference, September, 2020. Available at: https://www.philipxfuchs.com/Fuchs+et+al_2020_AMiD+Project_Overview+and+Findings.pdf. Original video record of the presentation: https://youtu.be/CwCo0rSgZdY.
Through their project AMiD, Assoc Prof Dr Wagner and Dr Fuchs, PhD, develop best practices and support structures for student-athletes migrating in the EU.
With the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union
- European Athlete as Student (EAS): Prof Laura Capranica, Laurence Blondel
- Lapland University of Applied Sciences: Principal Lecturer Heikki Hannola, Niko Niemisalo
- University of Cassino e Lazio Meridionale: Assoc Prof Cristina Cortis, PhD, Prof Loriana Castellani
- University of Hamburg: Jörg Förster, Patrice Giron, Jakob Kunert
- University of Ljubljana: Prof Dr Mojca Doupona, Assist Prof Marta Bon, PhD
Dr Philip X. Fuchs, PhD is Project Coordinator at the University of Salzburg. He has scientific expertise in kinesiology and performance analyses in volleyball, jumping, and balance assessment.
Assoc Prof Dr Herbert Wagner is Project Leader, senator, and coordinator of sport-performance-studies at the University of Salzburg. He has scientific expertise in kinesiology and training science in team sports.
University of Salzburg
5400 Hallein-Rif, Austria