In the context of sport, developmental histories provide information on an athlete’s career with respect to practice activities related to their primary sport. In studies of elite athlete development, researchers have used carefully designed questionnaires or interview methods to ascertain information about the routes to success in sport. Methods for obtaining developmental histories vary with respect to the research question guiding their use and the breadth and depth of information required. Typically developmental histories provide insights into current and previous practice habits at various levels of detail.
Over the past 2 decades, developmental histories have become a commonly used method of ascertaining data on athletes’ career histories. The interest in collecting developmental histories has stemmed largely from the seminal paper by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer on the concept of deliberate practice and its centrality to expert performance. According to Ericsson et al., expert performance can be predicted based on the number of quality hours spent engaged in practice designed specifically to improve performance. There has therefore been a need to find methods for collecting reliable and valid data on the amount and quality of practice accrued over an athlete’s career to test the validity of this proposition. Across a diverse range of sports, considerable support has been forthcoming. As a result of data collected from developmental histories, it has been shown that practice hours consistently differentiate across skill class (e.g., international versus national versus club level performers) and performance metrics (e.g., swimming or running times).
Recently there have been attempts to use developmental histories to understand how age of involvement in a primary sport impacts later success in the sport (either positively or negatively).
This has been studied with respect to ideas concerning early specialization versus early diverse involvement in many sports with an early focus on fun and enjoyment. The Developmental Model of Sport Participation, developed by Jean Côté, Jennifer Murphy-Mills, and Bruce Abernethy, has been used as a theoretical framework to study developmental pathways to success in sport. There has been mixed evidence in support of the suggestion that an early focus on play type of activities, potentially coupled with early sampling of various sports, positively impacts attainment of later success.
Data collected via developmental histories usually pertain to three general areas: personal demographics (including such variables as gender, age, education, family involvement in sport and living environment), current practice profiles and levels of performance, and previous practice profiles and past successes. Data are collected to inform as to the amount of hours per week spent practicing in the person’s primary sport and sometimes in other sports or activities. This is usually evaluated with respect to the number of practice sessions per week, the number of weeks or months away from the sport (due to off-season or injury) as well as with respect to the current reasons for engagement in the activity (e.g., primarily for fun or for improvement). In addition, researchers have also tried to ascertain how much practice was supervised or coach-led like team practice versus self-directed or individual practice, as well as the extent of competition involvement. Once the researcher has a measure of the number of hours per week spent in practice, it is possible to estimate the number of hours accumulated in various types of practice activities across a 12-month period, that is, the number of hours per week multiplied by the number of weeks of participation (not including injury and off-season). Current levels of performance and areas of strength and weakness are then related to current amounts and types of practice.
Past levels of practice over an athlete’s career are usually obtained through similar methods as for current practice but typically not in as much detail. Researchers usually solicit information about age of first involvement in the sport and age of serious commitment to the sport, and this information is either gathered for every year of involvement or in
2to 3-year blocks (to make the recall process less arduous for the participant). In cases where data are not collected for every year of involvement, estimates of practice in the intervening years are calculated based on the previous and subsequent year entries and on the assumption that practice gradually increased in a linear fashion.
Retrospective, recall-based methods of data collection, as is the case with developmental histories, require some demonstration of accuracy on the part of the researcher (validity and reliability checks). There have been a number of different methods used to ensure that the data are accurate. With respect to reliability, the same questions have been asked a number of times within a questionnaire or interview session, usually under slightly different guises: one question asking how many hours a week are spent in team practice versus a table requiring the person to specify the number of sessions per week they attend team practice and the average length of each session. Reliability is also gained through test–retest methods. Typically, 1 to 3 months after initial data collection, a select number of participants are asked to fill in all or parts of the questionnaire again. With respect to validity (or truthfulness) of the reports, attempts have been made to measure practice composition during actual practice sessions (e.g., via video), semi structured interviews have been coupled with questionnaire-based methods, and parents or coaches have been asked to report on current and past practice habits of the athletes.
- Côté, J., Murphy-Mills, J., & Abernethy, B. (2012). The development of skill in sport. In A. M. Williams & N. J. Hodges (Eds.), Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice (2nd ed., pp. 269–286). London: Routledge.
- Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406.
- Hodges, N. J., Kerr, T., Starkes, J. L., Weir, P., & Nanandiou, A. (2004). Predicting performance from deliberate practice hours for triathletes and swimmers: What, when and where is practice important? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 10, 219–237.
- Ward, P., Hodges, N. J., Williams, A. M., & Starkes, J. L. (2007). The road to excellence in soccer: A developmental look at deliberate practice. High Ability Studies, 18, 119–153