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Athlete Pathways and Development

An athlete development pathway describes a continuum that begins with the acquisition of movement skills through to lifelong engagement and proficiency.

Athlete development pathways are fluid; participants enter, leave, progress, or remain at a particular stage according to their ability, maturation, interest, opportunities, personal circumstances, and/or goals.

Sport organisations can identify preferred development pathways in their own sport, and then build programs and implement strategies to encourage participation and promote excellence.

Pathway frameworks, models and concepts


There are various theories used to explain how and why individuals engage in sport. In most cases participants must first develop their skills and ability before finally determining a long-term level of involvement. The notion of ‘competition’ between individuals or teams is a central theme within each stage of an athlete’s development. However, the exact format that competition takes at each stage, its meaning and outcome, will change to meet the athlete’s developmental needs, based upon the theoretical model for athlete development that is applied.

Competition structures may be informal and influenced by modified rules and equipment so that the novice athlete can focus on execution, participation, learning and enjoyment rather than a specific performance outcome. At the other end of the athlete development pathway there are competitions for elite athletes which are very formal and specific to the sport.

In between these extremes of the competition framework there exist many levels of local, regional, national, and international competition.  Each level is defined by rules and a competition structure specifically designed for the age or skill level of the participating athletes.

Modified sport
Allowing children to have fun in an environment that includes competition, but places a major emphasis on learning the fundamentals and skills of a sport.

School sport
Opportunities within the school environment.

Age group
Junior competitions on the basis of age grouping.

Club, state and national competition
Each sport will determine criteria for entry into successive levels of competition.

National leagues
Sports leagues in Australia include those with fully-professional athletes, as well as those with semi-professional or unpaid athletes.

Mature-aged participation
Masters competition, also referred to as ‘seniors’ or ‘veterans’ competition is usually structured for mature-age persons (30+) who wish to remain competitive.

Universities can, and do, have a strong impact on the sport sector.

Guidelines and practices

Related Topics

Reviewed by: Australasian Sport Information Network
Last updated: 12 October 2020
Content disclaimer: See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer


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