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What Are the Early Sport and Play Experiences of Elite New Zealand Hockey Players From Rural and Regional Communities?
Newport, Robert (Bobby) John
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The topic of athlete development attracts strong interest within high performance sport both globally and within New Zealand. A range of athlete development models exist and there are a number of contributing factors to athlete development. However, the foundations of an athlete’s development are formed through their early developmental experiences. The purpose of this study is to explore the early sport and play experiences of elite New Zealand hockey players from rural and regional communities. In its examination of how smaller communities contribute to the development of New Zealand’s top athletes, this research has a particular focus on the athletes’ early sport experiences, early play experiences, and the people around them as they grew and developed. This qualitative descriptive study employs semi-structured interviews to gather data from eight current and former New Zealand international hockey players. Data was analysed both deductively and inductively through a process of thematic analysis. The analysis process identified six dominant themes including: 1) Diverse range of sports played; 2) Young for the team; 3) Types of play; 4) Roaming and responsibility; 5) Overcoming challenges; 6) Support. The findings of this study indicate that early sampling of a range of sports with later specialisation was part of a pathway to success for the participants of this study. This finding strongly supports Côté and colleagues’ ‘Developmental Model of Sport Participation (DMSP)’ (Côté, 1999; Côté, Murphy-Mills, & Abernethy, 2012). Surrounded by a physical, social and cultural environment that supported large amounts of roaming and responsibility alongside unstructured, outdoor, risky play experiences, the participants of this study clearly profited from these early developmental experiences to become successful athletes.