What is athlete development? What does it entail? Why should administrators, coaches, athletes, and supports invest in off-field growth?


In a recent episode of SCI TV, Duncan Fletcher of Game Change Athlete Development Services and Consultancy talks with Joshua Gordon and Shannon Leinert about the benefits of athlete development and player engagement during and after their careers. He underscores some of the unique challenges that athletes face and how off-field activities are a critical component of on-field and future success.

Duncan Fletcher | Game Change

Fletcher became involved in athlete development issues while in graduate school coaching Division I hockey at Quinnipiac University. He has since worked with the NHL, the NHL Players Association and other groups on issues around player performance and athletic transition.

Not Just Physical Development

Athlete development is often thought of in physical terms like running faster, throwing farther, and jumping higher. Fletcher and his colleagues think about development in much broader terms.

“It’s dealing with issues from the neck up,” Fletcher says. “Peak performance is derived not only from what’s taking place physically, but what’s taking place mentally. We view athlete development from a holistic perspective.”

It Is About Performance

Fletcher’s goal is to help athletes improve their performance, effectively leverage their career, and be able to transition out of sport when the time comes. But addressing life after sport can be tricky.

“No athlete wants to talk about their funeral; they are living a dream in this particular moment,” Fletcher said. “What we really advocate is giving the athlete tools that allow them to succeed now, be a better performer, but also allow them to be introduced to what may be beyond their sport.”

Transitions Are Inevitable

Fletcher sees athlete development as a way to compresses the time between when an athlete leaves the game and when they can start having a meaningful impact in another area.

“Athletes are developing a very unique skill set, but in a lot of ways they are punished for it,” Fletcher said. With the right approach, “You’re empowering these folks to be more successful coming out of the game and more effective for their family, themselves, and the community.”

The Myth of a Singular Focus

There can also be performance advantages to off-field activities that reduce stress and build versatility and resiliency.

“Focusing all the time on one thing is exhausting,” Fletcher said. “On multiple occasions I’ve had athletes engaged in courses that had massive performance spikes in a very short time frame.”

Skills for Now and for Life Beyond Sport

Fletcher thinks the next frontier for athlete development is at the college and university level, helping student athletes identify and develop transferable skills while still encouraging them to perform on the field at the highest level.

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