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Sports Development Continuum

Sports Development Continuum

This is a detailed analysis of the sports development continuum model. A contentious area surrounding sports development has been that of work at grassroots and elite level. Disagreements and conflicts have arisen as to where the focus should be, and debates about the importance of both grassroots and elite sport have clouded this area.


Certainly, sports and physical activities can develop individuals and build stronger communities by bringing people together (Sport England, 2023). Therefore, the importance of sports development is paramount.


However, the question is how this development should happen.  UK Sport, and more recently Sport England and many other national governing bodies have endeavoured to identify different roles and responsibilities for those involved in sports development, from grassroots to elite level.


The clearest aspect is a sports development continuum which classifies development on a hierarchical source, starting at foundation, participation, performance and ending at excellence. The sports development continuum model has been used by various organisations to provide a fundamental perspective on their plans and policies for sport.


What is sports development continuum model

The sports development continuum model illustrates the gradual progression from grassroots right up to elite and world class level. Each stage is critical to an athlete’s development and should be approached with equal importance. Understanding the continuum is essential as it provides a roadmap for athletes, coaches, and parents to navigate the different stages of sports development.


The sports development continuum model clearly illustrates how individuals can move up and down the system whenever they choose to do so by putting the required efforts in place. In essence, sports development is all about encouraging change and the only way for change to happen is by all departments and individuals to understand and agree on the objectives set to reach the ultimate aims (Eady, 1993).







Figure 1.1 Sports development continuum model.


Foundation stage

The foundation represents the basic development of young people’s movement and skills, such as throwing, catching and hand-eye co-ordination. The ‘Active Schools’ scheme that Sport England runs, focuses on the foundation levels.


The foundation stage is where it all begins. It is the stage where young people are introduced to sports and start to develop fundamental skills. At this stage, the focus is on fun, participation, and learning. The goal is to develop a love for sports and create a positive experience for them. The foundation stage lays the groundwork for the development of future athletes.


Parents, coaches, and trainers play a critical role in the foundation stage. They need to create a safe and fun environment that encourages children to participate in sports. Participants at this stage should not be pressured to specialize in one sport but should be exposed to a variety of sports. This allows them to develop a broad range of skills that will be beneficial in the future.


Participation stage

From then on it is about participation in physical recreation, which is open to all members of the community, whether it is for fitness, enjoyment, or socialisation. Sport England also runs a scheme at this level called ‘Active Communities’. This scheme is delivered by local authorities and targets people who are physically inactive or regularly inactive.


School and community sports programs play a significant role in the participation stage. They provide opportunities for young people to participate in organized sports and develop advanced skills. Coaches and trainers at this stage should focus on creating a positive experience for athletes and promoting teamwork.


The participation stage is also for talent identification. Coaches and trainers should identify athletes with potential and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills further.


Performance stage

The performance level focuses on those who already participate in sports with the potential to progress onto a professional club or represent their country. They have the opportunity to improve their performance at specialist training camps and intrinsic motivation plays a major factor in wanting their desire to wanting to improve.


Coaches and trainers at the performance stage play a vital role in an athlete’s development. They provide elite training and support athletes in achieving their goals. Athletes at this stage need to be dedicated, disciplined, and hardworking. They need to be willing to put in the time and effort required to achieve excellence.


Elite stage

The last stage in the sports development continuum model is excellence/elite. Excellence relates to professional athletes who have an opportunity to compete on a national or global scale and win ultimate honours such as an Olympic gold medal. UK Sport is responsible for regulating programmes at elite level.


Athletes at the elite stage need to be at the top of their game. They need to be mentally and physically prepared to compete at the highest level. Coaches and trainers at this stage play a crucial role in an athlete’s success. They provide elite training, support, and guidance to help athletes achieve their goals.


As the competition is so extreme, the goal of thriving at this stage is very difficult. Therefore, professional athletes must have self-confidence and ambition to keep working and keep trying. They must also have a love for their sport that makes them reach their fullest potential (First Hand, 2023).


Role of generalists and specialists in the sports development continuum

Generalists usually work at all levels of the sports development continuum with a wide-cross section of the community. Specialists, however, are expected to work at the higher end of the spectrum, in more depth, focusing on specific groups, working with a school of developing performance and excellence in a particular sport (Gooding, 1999).


Challenges of navigating the sports development continuum

Navigating the sports development continuum is not easy. It requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance. It is a journey that is full of challenges and obstacles. One of the significant challenges is the pressure to specialise in one sport at an early age. This can lead to overuse injuries, burnout, and a lack of diversity in skills.


Another challenge is the lack of access to elite training and resources. Athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have access to the same opportunities as their peers. This can limit their potential and hinder their development.


Impact of technology on sports development

Technology has had a significant impact on sports development. It has revolutionized the way athletes train and compete. It has made it possible for athletes to monitor their progress and improve their performance. It has also provided coaches and trainers with tools to analyze performance and develop training programs.


Summary of Sports Development Continuum

To conclude, the sports development continuum is a journey that requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance. It is a journey that starts at the grassroots level and progresses to the elite level. To be successful, people need to have a clear understanding of the continuum and how it works.


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Last update: 28 March 2023


Eady, J. (1993) Practical Sports Development. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited

First Hand (2023) Professional athletes, Team sports, available at: (accessed 28 March 2023)

Gooding, A. (1991) 101 Ways to Succeed in Sports Development. Reading: Institute of Leisure & Anxiety Management.

Sport England (2023) Social and community development, available at: (accessed 28 March 2023)

Author: Zia Ahmed

Graduated with a BA (Hons) in Sport Management from Loughborough University, UK. Ahmed writes regularly on sports science and relevant subjects. His other areas of interest are business development, customer service and social media marketing.

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