Sport participation has been identified as a valuable vehicle for promoting life skills development. However, there is a dearth of research that has explored how sport teaches life skills and how they are effectively transferred between settings. Through in-depth qualitative interviews, where four male, elite adolescent athletes and four of their coaches were interviewed about their experiences within an elite soccer academy context, the current research aimed to understand the experience of the coaches and athletes involved in an academy program as it pertains to psychosocial development and growth. A grounded theory methodology was employed to address the research questions. The themes (environment, relationships, psychosocial growth, culture, Senior team organization culture, coach philosophy, coach's personal experience, and athlete characteristics) were understood within the following framework: Whether or not the athletes fully embrace the opportunity, being in that competitive, professional environment creates a challenge that forces athletes to improve their life skills, specifically their communication, confidence, work ethic, drive, and sense of self. The athletes' mindset (growth vs. fixed) emerged as the critical factor that determines whether the opportunity is fully embraced or not. The results from the coaches' interviews revealed that the Academy environment provides a foundation that supports coaches in applying their coaching philosophies. Coaching philosophies were found to be based largely on coaches' personal experiences as athletes and emphasized developing strong relationships with the athletes as well as employing a holistic, mastery-focused approach. The current findings suggest that creating a mastery-oriented, facilitative environment is conducive to psychosocial growth and suggests that life skills may be implicitly learned and do not need to be explicitly taught. When athletes perceived that their coaches emphasized work ethic, technical, tactical, and emotional development, and embraced setbacks as opportunities they reported greater enjoyment and more psychosocial growth. As the current study focused on a single academy with a homogenous group of athletes, future research should explore how coaches and athletes in other settings and other sports experience psychosocial growth.
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Thesis advisor: Cox, David
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