Reality and Dreams: A Comparison of Elite Athletes’ Lived Career Paths with Young Talented Athletes’ Imagined Career Paths

by Kristoffer Henriksen & Janne Mortensen

Vol. 5 2014, pages 69–91. Published September 16, 2014


The road to international sporting success is paved with difficult transitions. The present study is a qualitative in-depth interview study with 16 athletes. We first asked eight elite level athletes to provide a biographical description of their career path. We then asked eight young talented athletes to imagine they were at the end of a successful career and invited them to portray their imagined path. The elite athletes portrayed their career path as full of challenging transitions and existential concerns, and readily emphasized a number of internal and external resources as prerequisites for their successful careers. The young athletes portrayed an easy path with few hardships and emphasized internal resources over external ones. The study sets as a question for future research whether young athletes’ naïve and pervasive optimism is a cause for concern or an important internal resource for their further career development.

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About the Authors

KRISTOFFER HENRIKSEN, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Institute of Sport Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark. Kristoffer is also a sport psychology practitioner with Team Denmark, the Danish elite sport institution. As a researcher, Kristoffer has published several papers on successful talent development environments in sport, young talented athletes’ specialization pathways, and the provision of sport psychology services to senior elite and young talented athletes. As a sport psychology practitioner, Kristoffer works with top-level  athletes and coaches in sports such as orienteering and Olympic sailing. Kristoffer has published several scientific papers about his applied work including papers on the professional philosophy of sport psychology practitioners and a paper on the delivery of sport psychology services at the Olympic Games.

JANNE REFFSTRUP MORTENSEN is master in sport science and European master in exercise and sport psychology. Janne is working as a full time sport spsychology consultant in her own company, Mental Motion. She specializes in the transition from junior to senior levels and works primarily with young talented athletes and their parents. She currently supports several young, high profile athletes on their rough road to become elite athletes. Janne is also a part of Team Denmark’s network of associated sport psychology consultants. Janne has contributed to two chapters for the book Becoming a Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology Professional: International Perspectives (2014, Psychology Press), and published the paper “A Narrative Investigation of the Imagined Career Paths of Young Athletes” (Sport Science Review, 2013, 22 p. 305.22, with Henriksen & Stelter).