Managing the societal value of elite sport: Elite athletes’ motivators and barriers to be a role model: European Association for Sport Management

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Aim and Research Questions
The overall objective of this study is to develop more in-depth knowledge about elite athletes’ decision process to take up their role as an elite athlete role model and/or engage in activities that create societal value. Two research questions guide this study: (1) What are elite athletes’ motivators to be an elite athlete role model? (2) What are elite athletes’ barriers to be an elite athlete role model? By better understanding athletes’ barriers and motivators, this study seeks to provide insight into how elite sport can be managed to create societal value.

Theoretical Background and Literature Review
To justify elite sport investments, policymakers often argue that elite sport 'trickles down' a wide range of societal benefits (De Rycke & De Bosscher, 2019). An inspiring context put forward by research for creating societal value through sport includes leveraging elite athletes as role models (De Rycke & De Bosscher, 2019). Indeed, elite athletes are often perceived as role models (Mutter & Pawlowski, 2014). In fact, it is widely assumed that elite athletes have a duty to be a role model (Lynch et al., 2014). Nevertheless, it is important to nuance that not all athletes are motivated to actively take up their role as a role model. Sometimes, athletes are assigned the status of ‘role model’, without fully understanding, appreciating or willing to be a role model (Jonson et al., 2013). Although literature contains accounts of elite athletes as role models to promote the societal benefits of elite sport (e.g., healthy lifestyle and fair play), very little is known empirically about athletes’ motives and barriers that influence their decision to be a role model and subsequently ‘give back’ to community.

For the purpose of this study, a semi-structured interview guide was developed, using the Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2020) and Public Service Motivation (Perry & Hondeghem, 2008) as guiding frameworks. The interview guide was pilot tested with two participants (1 former male elite athlete, 1 active female elite athlete). Following the pilot test, only minor adjustments were made to the original interview guide (e.g., structure of interview guide, additional probing questions). Elite athletes who engage in projects that create societal value and/or perform a role model function regardless of whether they consciously choose to do so or not (e.g., athletes with high media presence, athletes with excellent sporting performances) were purposefully recruited. To date, 12 Belgian elite athletes and/or former (≤ 2 years retirement) elite athletes participated (50% female). Data collection is currently ongoing and we are aiming for at least 20 participants. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis in Nvivo12. Study procedures have been approved by the ethics committee of the university administering this study.

Results and Discussion
Preliminary results indicated that elite athletes experience intrinsic motivation (e.g., being a role model provides satisfaction, provides energy, personal connections with inspirational projects) as well as extrinsic motivation (e.g., social contacts, sense of purpose, additional income, expected from sport organisations) when they take on their role model function. In addition, elite athletes expressed the importance of an environment that complies with the three psychological needs defined by SDT: (1) competence (e.g., “I received a lot of nice reactions”), (2) social relatedness (e.g., “I think that this is also definitely important... regarding the societal value, how you act as a team, how you grow as a team”) and (3) autonomy (e.g., “It's important to have a choice... If I am asked for a certain programme and I feel it doesn't suit me, I can say that too”). On the other hand, elite athletes indicated that they experienced numerous barriers holding them back from taking up their athlete role model function. For example, time load, location of the activity, work load and no connection with the role model activities (e.g., no personal relation with the purpose of the role model activity) were reported as barriers. Further results will be discussed during the presentation.

Conclusion, Contribution and Implication
This study contributes to the current literature by exploring factors influencing elite athletes’ decision process to take up their role as an elite athlete role model. Informing policymakers regarding the motives and barriers that elite athletes encounter, can enable them to optimize and adapt their athlete role model policies, programmes and communication accordingly. Specifically, sport stakeholders such as sport federations or sport organisations should create an adequate and suitable motivational climate where the basic psychological needs of elite athletes are met as these are the nutriments for intrinsic motivation. Hence, the results of this study enable sport stakeholders to better manage the societal value of elite sport through elite athletes as role models.

Originele taal-2English
Subtitel31st European Association for Sport Management Conference
Plaats van productieBelfast
Aantal pagina's2
StatusPublished - 12 sep 2023
Evenement31st European Association for Sport Management Conference - Belfast, Belfast, Ireland
Duur: 12 sep 202315 sep 2023


Conference31st European Association for Sport Management Conference
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