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Athletes could provide the answer to overcoming work-life hurdles

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Stirling graduate Catriona Matthew won the 2009 British Open 11 weeks after giving birth. Photo: Ladies European Tour

A study of almost 10,000 European athletes focusing on the best way to balance competing careers could be of benefit to working parents.

University of Stirling Psychology of Sport Professor David Lavallee is leading the UK involvement in a nine-nation project to better understand how top-level athletes can combine their sporting careers with either study or work.

The two-year €624,000 (£447,500) Erasmus+ project, funded by the European Commission, brings together sports agencies, universities and Olympic committees from across the UK, France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

“Our primary objective is to produce a set of resources which will be of benefit to the many people providing support to elite athletes, whether that’s their coach or lifestyle advisors,” said Professor Lavallee, from the School of Sport at Stirling, Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence.

“The potential impact is much wider, however and athletes as a population who combine two competing priorities so effectively could provide us with invaluable insight which we can all learn from.

“Working parents are just one example of other individuals combining two ‘careers’ and I believe the competencies and skills they use to balance the two are in many ways very similar to those which leading cyclists, swimmers and triathletes call upon every day when balancing their sport and their study or their work.”

The project, titled Gold in Education and Elite Sport, will consult athletes and practitioners before testing the effectiveness of a best-practice model.

In the UK, Stirling is working with the sportscotland institute of sport, Loughborough University and the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme.

Together, the collaborative project will move to implement the European Commission Guidelines policy document published in 2012 on Dual Careers of Athletes.

Professor Paul Wylleman, the project Scientific Coordinator from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said: “In order to develop to elite level, talented athletes require support not only in their sport, but also in other domains of such as education. In fact, more and more elite level athletes are choosing a dual career path by combining an athletic with an academic career. This European project focuses on identifying the competences elite-level athletes - as well as those who provide support to them - require in order to optimise the development of a dual career.”

Stirling has supported many elite athletes through its International Sports Scholarship Programme including Commonwealth Swimming Champion Ross Murdoch, a Sport & Exercise Science student and LPGA Tour Golfer Catriona Matthew, who graduated with an Honours degree in Finance and won the 2009 British Open just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second child.

The University also manages Winning Students, a national project supporting 150 leading athletes studying in colleges and universities across Scotland. Research by Professor Lavallee and his colleague Dr Pete Coffee found its graduates are more likely to be in employment and better paid than their non-sporting peers.


David Christie
Senior Communications Officer
01786 466653

Notes for editors
Background information


  • The Scottish Government designated the University of Stirling as Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence in 2008. Our mission is to deliver the best for Scottish sport through the powerful and inspirational combination of sport and education. We are at the heart of Scottish sport, preparing athletes to perform on the world stage, enabling students to develop their skill sets for excellent careers and producing innovative research to improve the health of the nation. Our sport-centred campus brings together the people shaping Scottish sport, creating a critical mass of sporting expertise and excellence. Find out more at:

  • Erasmus+ aims to support actions in the fields of Education, Training, Youth and Sport for the period 2014-2020.

  • Gold in Education and Elite Sport (GEES) comprises nine partners and associate partners. The partners are: Institute National Du Sport, De L'expertise Et De La Performance (France); Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium); CONI (Italy); NOC*NSF (Netherlands); Gdansk University of Physical Education & Sport (Poland); University of Ljubljana (Slovenia); Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain); Swedish Sports Confederation (Sweden) and the University of Stirling.

  • Associate partners are: Bloso (Belgium); Olympic Committee of Slovenia; Halmstad University (Sweden); sportscotland institute of sport; Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (England) and Loughborough University (England).

  • Find out more about Gold in Education and Elite Sport (GEES) at:

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