Developing a methodology for comparing the elite sport systems and policies of nations: a mixed research methods approach

Abstract

This paper aims to make a contribution to comparative sport research and details a method for comparing nations’ elite sport systems less descriptively by measuring and comparing determinants of national competitiveness quantitatively. A mixed methods exploratory sequential design is used, consisting of two distinct phases. After qualitative exploration, a conceptual model was developed, revealing that there are nine sport policy dimensions or ‘pillars’ that are important for international sporting success. This paper focuses on a second quantitative phase, where the model was tested in a pilot study with six sample nations in order to develop a scoring system. Data from each nation were collected through an overall sport policy questionnaire completed in each country, and through a survey with the main stakeholders in elite sport, namely athletes (n=1090), coaches (n=253) and performance directors (n=71). Reflecting recognised principles of economic competitiveness measurement, this article demonstrates how 103 critical success factors containing quantitative and qualitative data can be aggregated into a final percentage score for the sample nations on each pillar. The findings suggest that the method is a useful way for objective comparison of nations, but it should not be isolated from qualitative descriptions and from a broader understanding of elite sport systems.

Keywords: comparative research methodologies, elite sport development, competitiveness, elite sport policies