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3.2 Competing Priorities

Participants often cited competing priorities and interests as a [possible] barrier to both the staying within and progression along a recognised sporting pathway. Underlying the direct competition that other interests and commitments posed was time, or rather, the perceived lack of it. Many spoke of not even being able to contemplate taking on more sport(s) or dedicating more time to a sport due to their already busy lives. The perceived absence of time was said to inhibit others from the more formal uptake of sport(s), and many were acutely aware of their current commitments substantially eating into their weekly schedule. 

“let’s say like, if I wanted to start [sport] now, I already have so much going on, like I just have, I just wouldn’t have time…then plus like revising and stuff, and actually staying home, to be home for a bit because I’m always somewhere…it’d be a bit like hectic” – FSM2, Gwent

Jostling for the participants time seemed to go beyond direct competition between other priorities and interests, but also included the desire to have some free leisure time at home to rest and relax.

“I get home at like half four…then I have my dinner, and I have to leave at five and then by the time I get back, it’s like eight, half eight…So I just want to like sit down and just chill for a little bit and not go up and like have to do homework” - FSM2, Gwent

The pressures on the participants time seem to force them to perform a balancing act, and ultimately, make difficult choices between their maintaining within and progression along a recognised sporting pathway, and other priorities and interests within their young lives. 


One of the most cited competitors for participants time was that of education, including exams, revision, and homework. Participating in sport(s) seemed often to result in a lack of time remaining in the day for schoolwork, sometimes resulting in a reprimand from school. Participants articulated that they often had to find time whilst travelling and during unsociable hours to get their necessary work done.

“It’s also affecting homework because it’s just like, we can’t do it…because if it’s in book, then I can’t do it on the way up to [city] in the car, but if it’s on iPad, then it’s fine but it, we, it’s really hard to like fit it in…because when we come home, at like nine o’clock, and homework’s due tomorrow and we haven’t done it, just because of [sport], then it’s like detention or something” – FSM1, Mid Wales

Given the difficultly in balancing educational and sport commitments, participants articulated how they would prioritise schoolwork over their ambitions and participation in sport, especially when exams were imminent. 

“It depends what I’m revising for.  If I’m revising for my exams, like ages away, then I’ll work it around [sport] but if it’s like a test I have, and it’s like a GCSE, then I will miss [participating in sport]” – FSM1, South-West

The balance that needs to be struck between sport(s) and education seems to increase as participants age, until, they do not think they can balance the two any longer. The consequence of education in direct competition with participation in sport(s) is often the postponement or dropping of a sport altogether:

“I’m in year eight right now…And like when I go into year ten, I’m going to like kind of stop for a year because I’m year eleven, because I have like GSCEs and stuff…So I have to revise for them” – FSM2, Gwent

“I think when you to get to like this age, you see a lot people just start to drop out or move to development because they want to keep [sport] but…they want to like focus on school work, so they don’t compete as often…So I think, when you get to that age, you sort of like make a choice whether you want to like fully go for it in [sport], or whether you sort of want to back off” – FSM1, South-West

The awareness of the competing interests of sport(s) and education seems in part to be driven by parents. Often cited was parents’ preference for education over sport, either as a guaranteed career or as a fallback. Participants often shared how this conversation would come to the surface if the balance between schoolwork and sport(s) resulted in a deterioration in educational performance:

“I kind of know that if my grade, well, well if my levels start dropping in school, my parents would definitely prioritise school over [sport]…Because they want me to like do, like not amazing but they want me to actually like do pretty good in school, so if [sport] doesn’t go quite right, I have a chance of being able to do something else” – FSM1, Central South

Teachers also have a clear influence on athletes’ prioritisation of education over sport, and the difficulty in balancing the two, with every teacher seemingly vying for their subject to be given the most attention: 

“Because every teacher expects you to prioritise their subject, before everyone else, so if every teacher’s telling you to do that, then you just don’t know what to do” – FSM4, Central South

Sport Commitments

Sport commitments, and in particular, the competition of other sport(s) on the participants time was also a presented as a significant barrier to the maintaining and progression along a recognised sporting pathway. Participants clearly articulated their desire and the benefits of ‘sampling’ many sports, explaining how they were “not wanting to focus it all into one sport”and wanting to avoid “devoting your life” to a single sporting pursuit.

However, participants often felt their perceived need to commit significant time and energy to a single sport and sporting pathway forced them to abandon their want to sample, and instead, make difficult choices between participating in multiple sports. Others chose the path of quitting the sport to maintain their path of sampling. 

“Like with [sport], I was like a competitive [participant] and it was like just so much, it was like nineteen odd hours a week and stuff and I just like couldn’t get dropped and stuff…So I quit and then gave like other sports a go and stuff” – FSM2, Gwent

In support of this sentiment is the example one participant gave of their experience of leaving the heavy time-commitments of a particular sport, and the seemingly redemptive feeling of ‘time gained’:

“Now I’ve got like thirteen hours a week now, just doing nothing and things I want to do. That’s a lot of time back. I almost feel like I’ve enjoyed my time off, I feel like I’ve, in some ways, got like my life back and I can still do other sports” – FSM1, South-West

Most who spoke about the competing priorities of other sports referenced a clash in scheduling between them, either for training or for matches / competitions. Others meanwhile note that their other sport commitments inhibit the additional training hours required to make progress on the pathway.

“I’ve got [sport] on a Monday as well. So, I’d have to like probably stop school [sport] because that’s also on a Monday…I’d not go to training as much as I could have and go to [other sport] more and train harder there” – FSM4, Central South

Participants also often spoke of the difficulty in choosing between several sports they had interest in and were currently enjoying. 

“When I was like younger, I literally didn’t want to do anything but [sport], like it was everything. But then I did start to get into [other sport] a bit more and sometimes when you get into a different sport, it kind of drifts you away from another…Because it’s like, you get more interested in that sport or more interested in it…and it’s just a bit difficult” – FSM2, Gwent

Participants also spoke of the factors which led them to select one sport over another, if they had to, citing they would choose their “main sport”. Participants spoke of a better “connection” due to a longer affinity with other sports (by starting the sport at a younger age), established friendship groups in other sports, enjoying other sports [training] more, and sports being perceived as “bigger” as contributing to the classification of a sport being their “main sport”. Others spoke of how their parents’ preference and participation in other sports led them down the same route.

“My parents are more involved in them, like they sort of enjoy them like a bit more sort of thing” – FSM2, North Wales

Whereas some participants were consciously aware of the risk of injury in one sport having a detrimental impact on their participation and development in other sport(s), others felt a sense of loyalty to teammates of other sports they were involved in. 

“Because I’ve got [three sports].  So sometimes I’ve got like matches all on the same day and I don’t want to let people down, by not going…But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do sometimes” – FSM2, Gwent

There was also a clear sense of external influence on participants making these choices, not only in terms of participation, but, in terms of the need to select sports. PE teachers were said to compete to get pupils to participate in the sport(s) that were of particular interest to them, whilst coaches were referenced as pushing for the specialising of sport(s) before the participant was ready. 

“That’s, that’s the thing, my coach is always on about it…I don’t even know why she’s on about it, but she always goes on about ‘you’ve got to choose a sport at some point’…’And you’re going to have to choose a sport’. I’m like, I’m not choosing the sport yet, though” – FSM1, South-West

Other Interests and Commitments

Participants also spoke of interests and commitments outside of education and sport which could impede their maintenance and development along a recognised sporting pathway. Older participants often referenced part-time jobs as getting in the way of training and competition. Others spoke of volunteering and coaching opportunities that they wanted to make the most of which often clashed with their participation in sport. 

Other participants however had more social reasons as barriers to their participation and development - for example, spending time with friends outside of sport and family holidays – all of which were seen as a barrier to training and by consequence, development in the sport and sporting pathway. Some participants articulated this pull away from sport and towards the social as a “fear of missing out”. 

“It’s a lot. Like sometimes you don’t really want to do it because it’s just, you like miss out on like quite a lot of things” – FSM1, Central South

Participant Cited Solutions to ‘Competing Priorities’

Though the presence of competing priorities is somewhat inevitable, participants made mention of several ‘solutions’ which could help balance or even mitigate the consequences. Firstly, athletes alluded to the need for clubs, sports and schools to work with them to help manage and prioritise the competing commitments they had, and to help them try and find solutions to achieve the maximum out of their young lives. There was also a recognition that clubs, sports, and schools should display more empathy in this regard, working with young people to understand the challenges they face and find the optimum solutions to balance their commitments and maximise their performance in all areas of life. 

Participants also cited needing guidance on the science of balancing and specialisation. Although participants recognised the benefits of sampling many sports in their younger years and retaining an interest in a select number of sports as they got older, they also spoke of seeking expert and reliable advice on when to specialise and focus their attention on a smaller number of sports. 

Lastly, participants also often spoke of the crucial role schools can play in facilitating their sport commitments. When speaking of the difficulty in balancing education and sport priorities, participants suggested that schools could provide designated times within their timetabling for homework / self-directed learning.