What Are the Four Stages of Athletic Development?

As a past athlete, I have been passionate about this space for many years. I have travelled this adventure and have intimate understanding of the challenges an elite athlete faces when they stop their career. Yes, that time when people are still talking about your career, however you have limited or no income, unsure of what is next and are not sure of your other skills as you have put your heart and soul in to your sport.

That is why I am passionate about this space and am ready to start sharing more about it, in the hope I can help other people who are on that trajectory. Following are the four stages of athletic development.


The Four Stages of Athletic Development

The four stages of athletic development are shown in the following diagram –

As you can see by the diagram, it indicates the stages are linear, however the age that each person goes through the stages are varied. Following is a brief explanation of the four stages –

1. Initiation Stage –

This stage starts when the child commences their sport and goes until approximately 12 or 13 years of age. During this stage the children are involved in fun, playful sport and movement activities across a variety of sports. Peers, siblings and coaches support their interest and involvement in the sport.

2. Development Stage –

The athlete is in this stage from about 13-19 years of age. During this stage they narrow their focus and to 1 or 2 sports. They also start to set sport-specific goals and practise in structured ways. The support network consists of family, peers and coaches.

3. Mastery Stage

In the mastery stage, the athlete becomes an expert in their sport. The athlete is very focused in this stage and feels responsible for this performance in both practise and competition. The support system in this stage are the coaches, families and other advisors. This stage can be divided in to three sub-stages – amateur senior/elite sport, professional sport involvement and maintenance of sport involvement/achievements. The stage goes from about 19 until approximately 28, when the athlete starts to think of transitioning in to the next stage – discontinuation.

4. Discontinuation Stage –

During this stage, the athlete stops competing at the level of competition they had. They may continue the sport for recreational purposes, however transition in to a career beyond sport.


Over to You…

I hope this has given you some insight in to the four stages of athletic development. Which stage are you in now? If you have any questions, please write them below.

Also – f you liked this article and want to keep taking the next step towards freedom and thriving in sport and lifeplease feel free to join the Sport Life Flow community by clicking here.


Reference –

Stambulova, N., & Wylleman, P. (2014). Athletes’ career development and transitions, In Routledge Companion to Sport and Exercise Psychology: Global perspectives and fundamental concepts. Routledge, London. S. 605-620.

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