The Role of Life-skills in the Talent- and Career Development Process

Hej! Vi, Fredrik och Mikael (idrottspsykologiska rådgivare), är riktigt glada över att presentera vår första internationella gästförfattare på denna blogg! Passande att vi också just nu befinner oss på AASP-konferensen i Providence (USA) vilket gör att även denna lilla text får en internationell touch :). AASP är en av världens största idrottspsykologiska föreningar och har årligen en stor internationell konferens inom idrottspsykologi (mental träning, idrottsskador, coping, teambuilding, ledarskap, mindfulness, ACT, etc.). 

Carsten Hvid Larsen
PhD. Fellow, Institute of Sport Science, University of Southern Denmark. Part of Team Denmarks network of Sportpsychology. President of Danish Sportpsychological Association. Working applied with teams and individual athletes in golf, soccer, badminton and svimming.

This article introduces the concepts of and importance of life-skills in the talent development process.
Latest research in talent development has shown that more varied psychological and especially social and cultural circumstances play an important role for talent development. The achievement of excellent performance is about creating a connection and handling the diversity of challenges during everyday life. There is a need to perceive athletic talent development in a broader context. Athletic talent development mainly deals with the development of sport-specific competencies and skills, as well as certain performance and athletic excellence issues. Describing a talented athlete without looking at the environment is basically a reductionistic strategy. In an ecological perspective it makes no sense to look at motivation, learning strategies or discipline as inner, stabile traits of the personality. They are developed in a social context, which explains, how athletes which are very motivated and determined in one context, suddenly do not possess those traits after joining a new club.

Career development incorporates talent development with additional, important aspects, such as:
• Balancing practice, competitions, and recovery
• Balancing sport and other activities
• Interpersonal relationships and social interactions
• Rehabilitation after injuries, etc.

Career development can be seen as a broader context for talent development, where the talent development process builds up the athlete’s internal resources to cope with ever-changing career demands in relation to the social context. The talent development process occurs within a career development context and contributes to the athlete’s internal resources to cope with career transitions (Stambulova, 2009).

There are different strategies to help athletes to cope with career transitions. Preventive interventions help athletes to become better aware of forthcoming transition demands and to timely develop all necessary resources for effective coping.

The outcome of a transition consists of four factors (4 S system) (Alfermann & Stambulova, 2007):
1) Situation – event or nonevent, how is it perceived by the athlete
2) Self – personality of the athlete
3) Support – availability of different kinds of support
4) Strategies – information seeking, direct action, inhibition of action. Strategies to cope with a transition are key elements

Coping strategies is central in a transition with an emphasized match between the transition demands and the athlete’s resources (e.g. life skills) as a key factor for successful coping. For successful transitions an increased focus on working with life skills can function as a coping strategy.

Life skills can be behavioral (communicating effectively with peers and adults) or cognitive (making effective decisions); interpersonal (being assertive) or intrapersonal (setting goals) (Danish et al., 2004). An implicit assumption in this definition is that life skills helps an athlete not only succeed in the sport he or she is playing, but also help the individual once he or she transfers the skills to non-sport settings (e.g. school) in which they are used successfully.

This distinction is important because for something to qualify as a life skill, you need to be able to transfer it to other life situations. It might even be argued that a social-emotional competency developed through sport is not a life skill unless it is actually employed by the young person in a different setting. Therefore, helping a young athlete learn deep breathing to manage stress while taking an important penalty shot in soccer is certainly an example of developing a social-emotional competency; however, it is not truly a life skill unless efforts are made to transfer that breathing technique to other contexts, such as exams at school. The relocation of these skills and competencies might occur when a coach or sport psychologist intentionally emphasizes the importance of transferring skills developed or enhanced through sport participation to other life situations (Gould et al., 2008).

If you want to know more about life skills and transitions you can read these articles:

  • Alfermann, D., & Stambulova, N. (2007). Career transitions and career termination. In G. Tenenbaum and R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of Sport Psychology (3rd ed., pp.712-736). New York: Wiley.
  • Stambulova, N. (2009). Talent development in sport: A career transitions perspective. In E. Tsung-Min Hung, R. Lidor, & D. Hackfort (Eds.) Psychology of Sport Excellence (pp. 63-74). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
  • Danish, S., Taylor, T., Hodge, K., & Heke, I. (2004). Enhancing youth development through sport. World Leisure Journal, 46(3), 38-49.
  • Gould, D. & Carson, S. (2008) Life skills development through sport: current status and future Directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1, 58-78.


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