An ecological understanding of the junior-to-senior transition in professional tennis

Shrom, Saul Jared (2022). An ecological understanding of the junior-to-senior transition in professional tennis. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The junior-to-senior transition (JST) in professional tennis has been found to be increasingly difficult in recent years (International Tennis Federation (ITF), 2017). Players face considerable financial imbalance on tour, with the top 1% of players (i.e., top 50 males and top 26 females) having earned 60% and 51% of the prize money distributed on the men’s and women’s tours in 2013, respectively, leaving only 1.8% of male and 3.1% of female players able to earn a profit in the professional structure (ITF, 2017). Further, research has shown that the time taken from players earning their first world ranking to reaching the world’s top 100 has increased from 3.7 to 5 years (men) and 3.4 to 4.9 years (women) from 2000 to 2017 (ITF, 2017; ITF Global Tennis Report, 2019), suggesting that there are additional challenges at play than financial imbalance making the professional tour an increasingly difficult environment to thrive in. This thesis aimed to gain a contextualized understanding of the lived JST experiences of tennis players to provide added depth to the limited academic literature base to date and offer valuable applied practice insight and implications for players, their support networks, and other stakeholders. To achieve these aims, three studies were conducted. First, Study 1 adopted an exploratory, single, holistic case design to examine the lifestyle challenges professional players experience in their lives on tour. Behind the Racquet (BTR), a social media platform aimed at raising awareness of professional players’ lifestyle challenges through providing authentic, vulnerable, self-reported experiences from players served as a unique and valuable data source. From the experiences of 65 professional players (33 male, 32 female) from 28 different countries, findings illustrated physical and mental fatigue, financial imbalance of the professional system, the social and psychological impact of living a nomadic existence, the weight of expectation, structural-caused instability, and mental ill-health as six key lifestyle challenges on the professional tour. Collectively, these challenges represented barriers to the satisfaction of many of players’ basic needs (Maslow, 1943; 1954) posing a risk to their tour progression and mental health. With context of the lifestyle challenges professional players experience, there was rationale to then investigate the lived experiences of players’ JST processes. In the first study of a larger, longitudinal, exploratory, collective case study into the lived experiences of seven professional tennis players, Study 2 adopted a narrative enquiry approach and identified three narrative types of the JST process: Supportive Structure and Steady Progression; Lack of Support, Demotivation and Career Termination; and Successive Setbacks and a Search for Solutions. Key findings from this study included: a) the facilitative impact of supportive structures in assisting players to meet many of their basic needs (Maslow, 1943; 1954) and sustain motivation amidst the concurrent and multifaceted challenges they face in their JST experiences; and b) the JST is a complex process constructed of several individual and environmental factors that interact to shape players’ developmental processes. This led to the adoption of the PPCT model (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) in Study 3 to understand the interaction of individual, environmental, and time-based influences in players’ JST experiences. Five themes were generated to illustrate this interaction: A Race Against Time, Riding the ‘Mental Grind’, ‘You Can’t Do It Alone’, A Chance to Pause, and Cultural-Based Opportunities. Collectively, these findings highlighted the varying macroystem and time-based influences that interact with players’ micro- and mesosystems to explain the complexity of the JST process. Taken together, this thesis expanded the knowledge base of the JST process in tennis and offers not just empirical, theoretical, and methodological significance, but valuable applied practice insight and implications to assist tennis players and other stakeholders with their preparations for professional careers.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology


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