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Searching for Paralympians: Characteristics of Participants Attending “Search” Events

Nima Dehghansai and Joseph Baker

Initiatives have been designed to attract novice athletes and to enable transfer for experienced athletes. However, the authors have very little knowledge of the effectiveness of these programs. To further improve our understanding, this study explored the demographic and sporting careers of 225 participants attending one of the 10 Paralympian Search events held between 2016 and 2018. The sample consisted of participants with a wide range of impairments and sport experiential backgrounds. The majority of the participants reported having some experience in sports, suggesting that either the promotions reached athletes involved in sports already or the advertising appealed especially to this cohort. Athletes with impairments acquired at various stages of their lives (congenital, before adolescence, adolescence, early adulthood, and adulthood) displayed differences in their sporting trajectories, suggesting considerations for current developmental models. Furthermore, it should be considered to vary the testing locations of future events to increase the reach to rural areas and implement new methods to attract novice participants.

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Coach and Athlete Perspectives on Talent Transfer in Paralympic Sport

Nima Dehghansai, Alia Mazhar, and Joseph Baker

Research pertaining to the experiences and motives of Paralympic athletes who transfer between sports is scant. This study aimed to address this gap through semistructured interviews with Canadian Paralympic coaches (n = 35) and athletes (n = 12). Three higher-order themes of “alternative to retirement,” “career extension,” and “compatibility” were identified. The subthemes of “psychobehavioral” and “physical and physiological” (from the higher-order theme of alternative to retirement) captured reasons leading to transfer, which are similar to reasons athletes may consider retirement. The subthemes of career extension—“better opportunities” and “beneficial outcomes”—shed light on factors that contributed to the withdrawal of negative experiences and reinforcement of positive outcomes associated with transferring sports. Last, compatibility had three subthemes of “resources,” “sport-specific,” and “communication,” which encapsulated factors athletes should consider prior to their transfer. In conclusion, the participants highlighted the importance of transparent and effective communication between athletes and sports to align and establish realistic expectations for everyone involved.

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Pathways in Paralympic Sport: An In-Depth Analysis of Athletes’ Developmental Trajectories and Training Histories

Nima Dehghansai, Ross A. Pinder, and Joseph Baker

This three-part investigation conducted a comprehensive analysis of 213 Australian and Canadian athletes’ developmental trajectories, training histories, and experiences in organized sports from 18 Paralympic sports (PS). While athletes with early-onset impairments (i.e., congenital, preadolescent) reached milestones and commenced various types of training at a significantly younger age than athletes with later-onset impairments (i.e., early adulthood, adulthood), the latter groups progressed through their careers and incorporated various trainings at a faster pace (i.e., fewer years). Preferences to certain training conditions varied between groups. Eighty-two percent of the athletes with acquired impairments had experience in able-bodied sports before the onset of their impairment, with 70% noting involvement in sports similar to their current PS. The participation rates (38%) and sport similarity (53%) were lower in PS. The amalgamation of findings from this series of studies highlights the complexity associated with PS athletes’ development and demonstrates the importance of taking an individualized approach.

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A Systematic Review of Influences on Development of Athletes With Disabilities

Nima Dehghansai, Srdjan Lemez, Nick Wattie, and Joseph Baker

Compared with mainstream sport athletes, relatively little is known regarding the factors affecting the development of athletes with a disability. Sport-specific training programs are essential to athletes’ successful performance; to create appropriate programs and strategies, a clear understanding of the nuances of development of athletes with a disability is important. The objective of this systematic review was to synthesize existing research on development in athletes with a disability and examine the key determinants of successful development and sporting performance. After a search of the Web of Science and SPORTDiscus databases, 21 articles were identified that met the inclusion criteria, which were assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool and categorized into 3 groups: training and practice, shortterm interventions, and long-term changes due to training. Among the studies, there was a disproportionate focus on immediate interventions and training programs and less on long-term development. The review reflected a lack of research on sportspecific development of athletes with a disability, which raises concerns regarding the effectiveness and appropriateness of current training practices.

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Comparing Developmental Trajectories of Elite Able-Bodied and Wheelchair Basketball Players

Nima Dehghansai, Daniel Spedale, Melissa J. Wilson, and Joseph Baker

Little is known about the factors influencing Paralympic athletes’ journey to expertise and whether these athletes have trajectories similar to those of their able-bodied (AB) peers. The purpose of this project was to compare the developmental trajectories of wheelchair and AB basketball players. A total of 150 participants completed the Developmental History of Athletes Questionnaire. Results revealed that while AB athletes reached early career milestones at a significantly younger age, athletes with congenital impairments reached midcareer milestones at similar ages to AB athletes. In addition, athletes with acquired impairments were able to reach key late-career performance milestones (i.e., national and international debuts) at a similar age to the other two groups. The findings from this study suggest complex developmental pathways that may not be reflected in current developmental models. Therefore, the authors suggest that scientists and practitioners be cognizant of context-specific needs when providing training recommendations.

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Examining the Influence of Impairment Type on the Development of Paralympic Sport Athletes

Nima Dehghansai, Veronica Allan, Ross A. Pinder, and Joe Baker

Research has recently examined the role of impairment onset on athlete development in Paralympic sport; however, less is known on how impairment type can impact athlete sporting pathways. In this study, 187 Australian and Canadian Paralympic sport athletes completed a survey. Participants were divided into the following four groups: impaired muscle power (n = 79); ataxia, athetosis, and hypertonia (n = 44); limb deficiencies (n = 42); and other physical impairments (n = 22). Mechanisms of initiation into Paralympic sport varied between groups with some drawn to sport through friends and/or family (i.e., limb deficiencies and other physical impairments groups) while others through talent search programs (i.e., ataxia, athetosis, and hypertonia group) or health care professionals/rehabilitation centers (i.e., impaired muscle power group). Results revealed no significant differences between groups in the chronological age or absolute years for achieving milestones. However, considering the high variability within the sample, more research is necessary to better understand how athletes with different physical impairments navigate through their sporting careers.

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The Emergence of the Pandemic: High-Performance Coach and Athlete Experiences

Nima Dehghansai, Alia Mazhar, Ross Pinder, Joseph Baker, and Ian Renshaw

The current study explored coach and athlete reactions and challenges leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, with a specific focus on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Games’ postponement. Nine Australian Paralympic coaches (n = 3) and athletes (n = 6) shared their experiences in semistructured interviews. The thematic analysis highlighted how participants experienced the emergence of the pandemic in different ways, but all were relieved when the late but eventual decision to postpone the Games was made. Regarding lockdown periods (i.e., social-distancing restrictions), some coaches and athletes thrived under the new reality (i.e., training from home, online coaching) while others had more difficulty adjusting. Furthermore, results highlight the many uncertainties still remaining, which continue to influence participants’ sport and personal lives. The experiences of coaches and athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on strategies and resources that could support Paralympic coaches and athletes during current and future crises.