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Perspectives and Experiences of Off-field Problematic Behaviour Among Elite New Zealand Athletes

In recent years, the off-field problematic behaviour of elite athletes has received considerable media interest and attention. However, such behaviour has been investigated largely in college/university athlete populations and has focused predominantly on specific sports and on-field behaviours. This qualitative study examined perspectives and experiences of off-field problematic behaviour among elite New Zealand athletes. Semi-structured interviews with 10 athletes (five female and five male) from seven sporting codes were completed. Interview transcripts were analysed and interpreted using thematic analysis. Five key themes emerged from the data, which provided insight into the development of off-field problematic behaviour in the current context and the wider consequences such behaviour has for athletes and others. The findings suggest that a range of off-field problematic behaviour is present within the elite New Zealand sporting environment. Alcohol misuse was the most prevalent type of behaviour discussed. A number of other problematic behaviours were also reported, such as risk-taking, violence, inappropriate sexual behaviour, disordered eating, and psychological manipulation. Participants’ definitions of ‘problematic behaviour’ were broad and included a number of less severe behaviours that were considered to be problematic within the elite sporting context. The main factors that appeared to increase the likelihood of off-field problematic behaviour were the influence of the media, pressures associated with professionalism, and the impact of management-athlete relationships. Having an elite public profile and the influence of drinking culture were identified as added pressures for participants, specific to the New Zealand sporting context. Furthermore, being on tour or competing overseas appeared to exacerbate potential vulnerabilities and provided unique opportunities for athletes to engage in off-field problematic behaviour. Numerous stressor factors appeared to have dual functions and, at times, also had protective value. Having stable support networks and positive athlete-coach relationships were protective factors central to the current study. Barriers to seeking help in relation to off-field problematic behaviour were also identified as an interesting finding in this study. Mistrust of professionals and breaches of confidentiality greatly impacted athletes’ willingness to seek help. Participants also made a number of recommendations to address off-field problematic behaviour that are highly relevant to professionals working within elite sporting environments. Overall, this study confirmed that off-field problematic behaviour of elite athletes was present in New Zealand; however, there were perceived differences as to whether such behaviour was increasing or decreasing in the current climate. Further research is needed to validate these findings and to better understand the experiences of elite athletes within the New Zealand sporting context.
Type of thesis
Easter, C. D. (2014). Perspectives and Experiences of Off-field Problematic Behaviour Among Elite New Zealand Athletes (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8810
University of Waikato
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