Over the past 30 years, dual career (DC) has become a visible topic in the European athletic career research which has looked to understand how DC pathways and athletes’ envisaged future are constructed and embedded in a more complex life spectrum. A career can be broadly understood as a lifestyle that involves the sequence of work, learning and leisure activities through a lifetime. Careers are unique to each person and are dynamic throughout life.
Despite the growing research and policy interest in elite athletes’ DC, however, there is paucity in understanding the experiencing of DC among athletes with disabilities, who are often put in unfavorable conditions even more than their body-able counterparts. The type of and the stage in their life cycle when they got their disability has a direct link with the opportunity to get quality education and/or vocational qualification as well as their access to the labour market. This circumstance objectively shapes their further DC pathway.
DC in sport is briefly defined as a career with major foci on sport and studies or work. It follows that the concept of DC revolves around the combination of sporting pursuits with education and/or occupation. It is exactly during such periods when DC is experienced by young talented and elite para-athletes. Based on this understanding, an athletic career appears to be just one part of the life career which concerns athletes’ future when retiring from sport to be well prepared for development in other spheres. That is, to provide flexible and competent support to para-athletes so that they can achieve their potential not only as sportspersons, but also as valued individuals in other domains of their lives.
If we believe that para-athletes‟ DCs are contingent on a range of factors then an effort to understand at least the key factors is needed. Therefore, DC research and support practices should focus not only on para-athletes‟ perceptions, but also on the country specific socio-cultural, policy, educational and sporting environments that shape DC. This will involve mapping of the particular national DC development milieu(s), so DC could be interpreted in context. That is, in order to understand para-athletes‟ needs, attitudes and behaviour researchers, DC support service providers, and policymakers need to address the various social and policy contexts, cultural attitudes, and institutions and arrangements in place (e.g., sport organisations, public authorities, educational establishments, employment agencies, etc.) that provide para-athletes with certain resources while limiting others. What follows is that para-athletes‟ DCs are materialised through complex processes where personal experiences, attributes, resources and coping strategies interact in a mutually reinforcing way with different and multilayered environments that facilitate or hamper DC development.
The DC trajectory is non-linear and actually consists of a series of different stages and transitions. This means that DC might be imbedded in a lifespan development through para-athletes’ early and middle childhood, early and later adolescence as well. Within each developmental stage and transition, para-athletes will experience demands and challenges of various types and levels that may impinge on athletic and personal development. In other words, their investment in sport shifts over time according to specific health, social, psychological and financial situation, educational commitments or work duties. This is even a more challenging task for some para-athletes, who often have to manage their sporting pursuits within limited cognitive, social, financial and temporal resources or not well organised DC support environments.
Para-athletes should deal with both demands in sport, studies, social and private life and DC barriers (i.e., personal and external factors that interfere with successful adjustment/coping). External barriers, such as lack of flexibility in learning/studies and financial support, biases against people with disabilities, public skepticism, organisational stressors, and lack of professional assistance/vocational support programmes in sport and/or educational system, are complemented by personal barriers, such as lack of confidence and abilities for successfully handling DC management or employability upon post-athletic retirement.
Previous DC research suggests that personal resources are decisive factors in DC adjustment, while all forms of formal and less formal DC external support (e.g. social support network or professional support providers) serve as complementary and/or compensating factors. Relying on their own competencies, seeking support when necessary, and utilising resources available in their environment can be viewed as para-athletes’ major coping strategies. Any support efforts therefore should be premised on both holistic and individual approaches.
Building on the above conceptual framework the overall research will consist of two main parts:
- •POLICY CONTEXT ANALYSIS. The aim here is to examine the broader context in which para-athletes’ DCs take place. More specifically, we shall review existing DC support structural arrangements, legislative provisions, regulations, policies and practices in the seven partner countries concerning young talented and elite para-athletes’ DC.
- •EMPIRICAL FIELD SURVEY. Clarifying the definition of para-athletes: those who are part of the Paralympic or Deaflympic movement (i.e. promoting elite sport achievements) Defining the scope of para-athletes being studied (target groups):
- •Talented/elite athletes with any kind and degree of impairment who participate in organized training activities and sport competitions at national and/or international level. They should be members or registered athletes of recognized sport organisation at local, regional or national levels.
- •Young talented para-athletes are considered those who have a potential for further sport development to achieve high sporting results.
- Elite para-athletes are considered those who have participated in formal competitions and obtained high performance results, medals, rankings, etc., regardless whether their sport is part of or not part of the Paralympic Programme.