A Path to Excellence


A COMPREHENSIVE VIEW OF DEVELOPMENT OF U. S. OLYMPIANS WHO COMPETED FROM 1984 - 1998

“In this initial report, the main objectives are to provide the general patterns and trends that characterized the training and development of U. S. Olympians.”

“…no matter what the initial characteristics of the individuals, unless there is a long and intensive process of encouragement, nurturance, education, training, the individuals will not attain extreme levels of capability in the particular fields.”

Motive for Participation: FUN! Love of sport and activity combined with early success

“…youth sport programs that emphasize fun, enjoyment, and love of sport provide a springboard for athletes to continue their development upward.”

“…the people most responsible for developing an athlete’s love of sport were the initial coaches or teachers.”

Participation in a Variety of Sports before single sport focus

“Overall, it appears that these U.S. Olympians were very active in a variety of activities as children and adolescents. In the age groups, <10 years old and 10-14 years old there was a range of 2.6-3.5 sports for all respondents. In elementary and secondary school physical education, Olympians reported an average of 3.3-3.4 days per week of activity.”

Introduction to sport participation: Clubs

“…physical education programs did not introduce most Olympians to their sports. For all respondents, the private or commercial club was the most common type of program in which Olympians made the decision to pursue excellence; collegiate sport programs were second in popularity.”

Training: Progressive, slow increase over many years

“…progressive increase in training load over a long period [12 – 13 years] is needed in order to reach the top levels of Olympic sport.”

Importance of Coaching: From the beginning of sport participation to the highest level

“Female and male Olympian respondents rated the importance of coaching highest during the national and international competitive phases of development…. Nearly equal in importance was the coaching that occurred during the skill acquisition phase.”

“…educated and experienced coaches must be in place at the youth sport level in order to provide an appropriate and fun atmosphere.”

Qualities of a Coach: Ability to motivate and ability to teach

Coaches “…who possess the qualities that Olympians value such as an ability to teach, an ability to motivate, training knowledge, and strategic knowledge of a sport may yield better performance results.”

Long Term Performance Progression: Dedication and Commitment

“Olympian respondents ranked dedication and commitment as the number one factor for long-term performance progression. Mental focus and competitive success were ranked second and third, respectively. These results suggest that the most important factors were coming from the individual athlete. The next set of factors, ranked fourth through sixth focused on supportive individuals and groups and included family, coach, and training environment. The last set of factors, ranked seventh through ninth, included training partners, competitive failure, and education about training.”

Factors Contributing to Drop Out: Conflict with other life pursuits

“Olympian respondents cited conflict with other life pursuits as the most common reason why their peers discontinued participation in sport. Financial pressures and failure to improve followed closely.”

The Olympic Dream: Starts with achieving local success

Introduction to sport -> 3 years -> local success -> Olympic dream -> 3.5 years -> decision to become an Olympian -> 1.7 years -> belief it was possible. “One of the strongest trends to emerge from these data was the short period of time between the decision to become Olympian and the belief that it was possible.”

Sport participation to the pursuit of excellence

The “challenge and love of competition”, “a desire to be successful”, the need for a “competitive outlet”, and “fun” were the four prominent factors that motivated all Olympians to pursue excellence in their sport.”

Long Term Athletic Development

“…one of the distinguishing marks of these data is that male and female Olympic medalists had a longer local developmental stage by 1-2 years than male and female non-medalists.”

A Path to Excellence: 2000 – 2012

Development of an Olympic Dream

Introduced to the sport: 11.4 years old

Achieved local competitive success: 14.2 years old

First dreamed of becoming an Olympian: 14.0 years old

Started making decisions to make Olympic dream a reality: 17.5 years old

Believed it was possible to become an Olympian: 19 years old

Made first U.S. Olympic Team: 25.5 years old (calculated based on the midpoint of the selected age-range).

Therefore, the average length of time from when an athlete was first introduced to the sport until making first U.S. Olympic team was 14 years (11.4 – 25.5 years of age).

Factors Directing Olympians to Sport: Love of activity and sport combined with early success

Intrinsic love of activity, Love of the sport, Early success , Parental influence, Coach recruitment , Peer recruitment , Sibling recruitment

Motivation for Participation

Challenge/love of competition, Desire to be successful, Competitive outlet, Fun

Motivation for Pursuit of Excellence

“…challenge or love of competition, desire to be successful, competitive outlet and ‘Fun’ were the highest-rated motives to pursue excellence in sport.”

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