A within-career transition faced by a majority of athletes when undertaking a dual “study and elite sport” career, is the normative transition to a combination of elite sport and higher education (Wylleman, Alfermann, & Lavallee, 2004). While there is a significant body of European research on the demands (e.g. Brown et al., 2015), required resources (e.g. De Brandt, Wylleman, Torregrossa, Defruyt, & Van Rossem, 2017; MacNamara & Collins, 2010), possible benefits (e.g. Aquilina, 2013), and potential costs (e.g. Cosh & Tully, 2014) of athletes’ dual career in higher education, little research is available on the actual outcomes of European athletes’ dual career pathways, in particular with regard to student-athletes’ academic performances. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate the academic performances of elite student-athletes during their first three years at a Flemish university.




The academic performances of 111 elite student-athletes (mean age at entry into university = 18.1, SD = 0.6; 60% male – 40% female) were monitored over the course of their first three years at a Flemish university, which was purposefully selected based on its support provision to student-athletes. The study efficiency rate and dual career dropout rate were used as indicators of student-athletes’ academic performance. The study efficiency rate is calculated as the ratio between the number of credits acquired and the number of credits taken (Raad Hoger Onderwijs, 2013). Dual career dropout rates were studied in view of dropout from academia (i.e. leaving the university) or sport (i.e. losing elite student-athlete status). Possible differences for gender, type of sport, athletic level, study subject, type of secondary education (i.e. general, technical, or vocational preparation), and dual career background (i.e. whether or not athletes attended an elite sport school in secondary education) were examined. Using SPSS 23.0, dropout rates were calculated after year 1 and 2 for different groups of student-athletes, and differences in distributions examined using Chi-squared tests. Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney tests were performed to compare study efficiency between different groups within the same study year (i.e. cross-sectional), while multiple Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were performed to examine within-subject changes in study efficiency between year 1, 2, and 3 (i.e. longitudinal).




Results showed that one athlete in three dropped out of their dual “university and elite sport” career in the first three years. Dropout from academia was more prevalent than dropout from sport, especially after the first year. Those who dropped out from their dual career had significantly lower study efficiency rates than non-dropouts. Furthermore, five academic “risk” groups were identified. Student-athletes who were male, participated in team sports, competed at a higher athletic level, had a technical or vocational preparation in secondary education, or attended an elite sport school demonstrated not only higher dropout rates from academia, but also generally lower study efficiency rates, and significant declines in study efficiency over time.





The study contributes to a stronger knowledgebase on student-athletes’ academic performances in a European context, and emphasizes the importance of a systematic monitoring of athletes’ dual career pathways. Student-athletes’ premature dropout from elite sport and academia identified in this study may reflect a key societal concern that many students across Europe drop out before obtaining a higher education degree (European Commission, 2015). Furthermore, the different patterns in study progress (e.g. consistency, declines, and dropout) for different subgroups of student-athletes highlight the importance of taking into account the diversity among student-athletes (and by extension all students), supporting previous calls for individualized and tailor-made approaches among learners (European Commission, 2015). Recommendations for higher education institutions to optimise their monitoring and support processes for student-athletes will be suggested during the presentation.




Aquilina, D. (2013). A Study of the Relationship Between Elite Athletes’ Educational Development and Sporting Performance. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 30(4), 374–392.

Brown, D. J., Fletcher, D., Henry, I., Borrie, A., Emmett, J., Buzza, A., & Wombwell, S. (2015). A British university case study of the transitional experiences of student-athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 21, 78–90.

Cosh, S., & Tully, P. J. (2014). “All I have to do is pass”: A discursive analysis of student athletes’ talk about prioritising sport to the detriment of education to overcome stressors encountered in combining elite sport and tertiary education. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(2), 180–189.

De Brandt, K., Wylleman, P., Torregrossa, M., Defruyt, S., & Van Rossem, N. (2017). Student- athletes ’ perceptions of four dual career competencies. Revista de Psicología Del Deporte, 26(4), 28–33.

European Commission. (2015). Drop-out and Completion in Higher Education in Europe. Brussels, Belgium. Retrieved from

MacNamara, Á., & Collins, D. (2010). The role of psychological characteristics in managing the transition to university. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(5), 353–362.

Raad Hoger Onderwijs. (2013). Advies over studierendement [Advice on study efficiency]. Brussels.

Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transitions in sport: European perspectives. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5(1), 7–20.




Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTo be added after publication
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Mar 2018

ID: 36280801