This is the third study of high performance athletes in just over a decade. As was the case with the previous studies in 1992 and 1997, the primary goal was to gather information from various sport stakeholders in order to paint a current picture of high-performance athletes’ social and economic characteristics.
The findings reported are based on evidence collected from multiple sources (athletes, coaches, high performance directors, and retired athletes), which increases the validity of the results. Where possible, comparisons have also been drawn between current results and previous findings. These results are also intended to be used as a basis of comparison for future measurements with the sample populations.
A survey represents a snapshot in time. In some cases, results suggest the need for further investigation to uncover why certain results were reported. In the case of this study, some additional investigation may be needed in a few areas, where findings beg further questions.
It is important to note the timing of the survey, which was conducted prior to the $4,800 increase in stipends, that occurred in September 2004, and represented a $400 per month increase in the financial support that athletes receive through the Athletes Assistance Programme. Results based on the funding, economic and financial status of athletes today may look very different with this increase in place; nonetheless, this affords a unique opportunity to examine the full impact of the stipend increase over a period of time (and suggests the need to re-examine some portions of this survey in future years.
This third survey of high performance athletes builds on much of the data from the earlier studies. Areas of interest include: satisfaction levels; funding; training; employment; and athlete representation, as well as other areas.
The two overriding themes drawn from the athlete survey are the degree of commitment and dedication that athletes have for their sport and the concern with the level of financial assistance and general recognition that they receive from government and others (corporate community, sport organizations and national team) for their participation in their sport.
Athletes are very positive about their participation in sport, ranking it higher than family in terms of the importance that they attach to it in their lives. Sport is considered a way of life and athletes are motivated by the pursuit of excellence, their desire to win and the enjoyment that comes from the physical activity and self-development that it brings – generally, contributing to an enhanced quality of life.
While satisfaction with the enjoyment, achievement and pace of their athletic career is very high, athletes are far less positive about the level of recognition and financial support that they receive, particularly the older and more elite athletes, who are the most critical. Yet, virtually all of today’s carded athletes say that they would choose the same path again in the future, if they had to do it over again. Coaches also share some of these same concerns. They are least satisfied with the proximity of adequate and affordable housing to training sites and the level of corporate support for athletes.
Most athletes surveyed agree that full-time training is required in order to be the best that one can be in their sport. Athletes spend an average of 36 hours per week in training and the average period that an athlete is carded has been increasing, from 3.7 years in 1991-92 to 5.7 years in 2003-04.
Half of the athletes who responded to the survey are students, although this was adjusted to three in ten in the final results to be better aligned with the incidence of students in the athlete population. Most student athletes are pursuing a university degree in a wide variety of fields of study, particularly the younger, developing athletes. Use of deferred tuition credits is of wide interest, with two in three athletes saying that they will likely exercise this option, particularly older and part-time athletes (who in contrast to the younger athletes are no longer in full-time studies). Compared to Canadians, carded athletes are generally more educated.
One-third of athletes indicate the need to complete a university degree in order to pursue a post-sport career.
Adequate financial support is considered to be the most important support for athletes, followed closely by the quality of the technical support. Two of the top four supports required by athletes make reference to the quality of technical supports for athletes (e.g. high quality coaching and international competitions).
Six in ten athletes surveyed are employed in some capacity, although few are employed on a full-time basis, year round. About half of employed athletes work 40 weeks of the year or more. The largest proportion is working in recreation or sports, but many are working in other areas, such as social sciences and sales and services (with the latter being a popular area among the youngest athletes).
Athletes earn in the range of $25,000 to $29,000 a year (which is moderately lower than the average Canadian personal income in 2000, which was $31, 757, however, the athlete population is a significantly younger population than that of the average Canadian worker)1, mostly from sport-related income, with government assistance forming the lion’s share of it.2 The average expenses incurred by athletes total about $2,500 a month. About half of athletes have incurred debt somewhere along the way, with most owing money to their parents or to financial institutions. The average debt is $8,302 among student athletes who are in debt. This is lower than the average debt reported by post-secondary students more generally3.
Although most athletes surveyed agree that the AAP has allowed them to further their athletic career, most also say that the amount of support is insufficient and that higher stipends should be a top priority for change. 4 Likewise, coaches also realize the benefits to AAP, although they are somewhat less complementary than athletes.
Athlete representation has a low profile. Many athletes are unsure of whether they have brought an issue forward, and when they have, many are unsure about whether the issue was resolved or not, and how it turned out. Athletes are also divided in their satisfaction with the representation that they receive. Older and more senior athletes are more positive.
Awareness of AthletesCAN is high, and athletes are moderately satisfied with how well represented they feel, and in terms of the impact that AthletesCAN has on issues that affect their lives.