The role of elite sport policies, pathways and inter-organisational relationships in developing elite tennis players

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Many countries globally support and continuously seek ways to achieve and sustain elite athlete success. Governments spend significant sums of public or government controlled funding in elite sport to improve or maintain success at the international level. However, elite athlete development is the result of a combination of elite sport policies, athlete development pathways and interactions between various stakeholders that are involved in the delivery of athlete development pathways. These factors make elite athlete development a complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted field of study that necessitates specific research efforts that focus on how these factors contribute to elite athlete development in specific sports. This thesis examines these factors and progresses from a macro-level examination of broad international policies to a meso-level exploration of specific strategies for player development pathways. Then, it moves into a micro-level analysis of the inter-organisational relationships (IORs) between tennis clubs and a tennis federation. Three studies were used to undertake these examinations and shape the body of this thesis. The first study examined tennis-specific and policy related factors that influence international tennis success. A convergent parallel mixed methods design including qualitative and quantitative data was used to collect and analyse the data (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). Specifically, 35 international tennis experts participated in an online questionnaire which combined (a) open questions on factors that influence elite tennis success of countries, and (b) Likert scale questions based on the Sport Policy factors that Lead to International Sporting Success (SPLISS) model (De Bosscher, De Knop, van Bottenburg, & Shibli, 2006). The second study examined the role of various stakeholders in supporting elite player development processes. Using the attraction, retention/transition and nurturing (ARTN) framework of sport development processes (Sotiriadou, Shilbury, & Quick, 2008), this study used an organisational perspective to explain how sport organisations and stakeholders within these organisations develop, deliver or support tennis player programs and strategies at different development stages. Data from 18 in-depth interviews with international tennis experts were thematically analysed to explore stakeholder involvement and how their interactions and strategies shape elite tennis pathways. The third study examined the ways that IORs between tennis clubs and a tennis federation facilitate elite athlete development. This study used a conceptual framework based on IOR formation and management literature (e.g., Babiak, 2007; Parent & Harvey, 2008). Data were collected through document analysis and 14 semi-structured in-depth interviews with representatives from the tennis federation and tennis clubs in Flanders. The results of the first study showed the SPLISS model should to be adapted in order to reflect the tennis-specific context. The key ground for the adaptation of the SPLISS model relates to the emergence of two new contextual themes, culture and commercial environment (e.g., media, sponsors and private academies). The findings confirm that the way elite sport policies are shaped and implemented vary in order to reflect sport-specific needs (Sotiriadou, Gowthorp, & De Bosscher, 2013; Truyens, De Bosscher, Heyndels, & Westerbeek, 2014). However, questions on how these policies result into actual strategies and player development pathways in tennis remained unanswered. This further questioning led to the second study and the use of an organisational sport development framework, the attraction, retention/transition, nurturing (ARTN) framework, to examine the ways sport development stakeholders shape, implement or deliver development strategies, such as programs, competitions, and coaching at each sport development processes. The results of study 2 showed that clubs, coaches and national tennis associations (NTAs) are involved with all the processes and stages of athlete development. However, their role, influence and involvement is specific to each development process. Importantly, the commercialised nature of tennis triggers the involvement of private sport organisations including private academies, clubs and third party organisations in the development and support of elite players. The study concluded that during the various sport development processes, stakeholders need to cooperate to obtain the best athlete development outcomes (Sotiriadou, 2009; Truyens et al., 2014). Building on that knowledge, and in particular on the need for stakeholder collaboration that emerged from study 2, the third study used Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) as a research context to examine how IORs between clubs and the tennis federation in Flanders facilitate tennis player development. The results of study 3 showed that the tennis federation and clubs engaged in IORs to achieve efficiency (i.e., more efficient elite player development) and reciprocity (i.e., work towards common goals of elite athlete development). IORs helped the federation to gain legitimacy and asymmetry, and clubs to develop stability. Several joint player development programs lay at the basis of IOR management. Formal control mechanisms, such as objectives and strategies, the allocation of roles and responsibilities, and reporting and authority facilitated the management of IORs. In addition, informal control mechanisms, such as personal contacts, trust and communication, engagement and commitment further strengthen IOR management. Even though clubs and the federation cooperate to deliver joint player development programs, the results showed tensions in relation to the development of players over the age of 12. The study concluded that IORs are a useful way for clubs and the federation to combine their strengths and pool their resources for elite player development. However, further considerations are required in maintaining trust and long term collaboration. The thesis concludes that the factors that facilitate the development of elite tennis players vary depending on the relative importance that a sport places on various policies, the context in which it operates (commercialised and professionalised), the ways various stakeholders are involved in elite player development, the resulting elite player pathways, and the dynamics of IORs between clubs and the tennis federation. Overall, elite sport policies in a commercialised sport, like tennis, appear to shift away from the typical government driven policy and funding model to include the emerging influence of the private sector including private tennis academies and clubs that have an input on elite player development which sits outside government policy direction. The overall practical implications of this thesis address policy makers’, high performance directors’, coach education managers’ and coaches’ of NTAs and clubs/academies challenges in the management and delivery of sustainable practices in elite player development in tennis.
Date of AwardMar 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Griffith University Queensland
SupervisorVeerle De Bosscher (Promotor) & Popi Sotiriadou (Promotor)


  • Elite sport policy
  • Elite player development
  • Pathways
  • National tennis associations
  • Clubs
  • Inter-organisational relationships

Cite this