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The transition from junior athlete to senior professional

In essence, moving up from juniors and becoming a professional athlete represents the contrast between; participating mainly for enjoyment, and delivering the results associated with senior status.

Equestrians are eased into this transition by competing in ‘young rider’ competitions, for the under 25s; a structure which allows experience of international competition, without losing touch with one’s peer group.

This process of moving out of juniors and into senior competition, can be represented by the development of the self.

A qualitative study by Pummell and Lavallee (2009) suggests that graduating from juniors, through young riders and on to senior level, is perceived as a series of smaller stages.

As each new level or milestone is approached, riders evaluate the discrepancy between their current status and where they want to be, giving rise to an increased intensity of engagement with the sport.

The resultant commitment to the sport has been termed ‘athletic identity’ (Brewer, et al., 2000), and evidence suggests it is influenced by situational factors.

Grove et al. (2004) found that the identity of elite athletes facing a deselection decreased, whereas in those selected it was sustained. Pummell and Lavallee also found that situational factors such as a long-term injury to a rider’s best horse influenced their self perception, as they worried that their new status as a professional would be undermined. 

The move to senior level also triggers social comparison with peers, and research suggests this too impacts self perceptions. Moreover, the role of social processes (such as reflected appraisals) in the development of the human self-concept have been recognised (Tice & Wallace, 2003).

Indeed, in sport, an athlete’s perception of the self is influenced significantly by what they infer others think of them, and whether they believe that others have accepted their status as a successful senior.

This means that the media are also influential in the development of an athlete, with riders in Pummell and Lavallee’s study citing the importance to their status of being featured in the equestrian press.

Moving from junior to senior level in sport prompts a change in the way an athlete perceives the self, from being a successful competitor at junior level to one of many participants, vying for success on the senior circuit.

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