This research discusses the practical and ideologically nuanced factors that shape professional athletes’ engagement in tertiary education programs. Utilising the insight and experiences of 132 current professional athletes and 36 current player development managers working across the 5 leading Australian top-division sporting codes (Australian Football League, National Rugby League, A-League (soccer), Super Rugby, and Cricket Australia), we questioned the ways in which professional athletes are both inhibited and empowered to succeed in their education pursuits.
Data was informed by a uniform survey of qualitative and quantitative measures, undergoing a detailed thematic analysis to organise findings into discussable categories. Results revealed that athletes are significantly disadvantaged in the education space. Participants reported the rigidity of sporting schedules, contract duration and insecurity, physical and mental fatigue, the transient nature of careers, and the challenge of managing studies in addition to an existing full-time commitment as the most prevalent barriers.
Flexibility was cited consistently as an effective intervention and management strategy, where tailored education programs and suitable delivery modes were suggested as an effective way to meet the unique needs of professional athletes. The role of player development managers was also seen as a meaningful facilitator and crucial personal support throughout the athletes’ education journey.