The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

Competing at a major international multi-sport games, like the Pan and Parapan American Games, should provide lasting and positive memories for athletes, regardless of where they place at the end of their competition. While much attention is paid to athlete training and preparation leading into the major games, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are many controllable event-related features that influence performance and overall event satisfaction.

For the past 10 years, I have been working with sport organizations to enhance understanding of athletes’ experiences within the major games environments. At the 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games in Toronto, I collaborated with the local organizing committee’s Athlete Advisory Council to discuss my athlete research and conduct a survey about the athlete experience at the Games. The 2015 survey consisted of questions regarding athlete accommodation, food quality, transportation, sporting venues, communication, medical services, security, social activities and other games related facets deemed important. Athletes were also provided with open-ended questions to denote key highlights and ways to improve future major games.

Athlete Experiences at the Games

In total, 829 athletes (538 Pan Am athletes and 273 Parapan Am athletes) completed the survey. Findings revealed that the athletes’ performance was influenced by a number of controllable service environment factors that affected sleep, recovery, and anxiety. These included:

  • Quality of training venues and available equipment;
  • Travel time between sport venues and accommodations;
  • Access to high quality, nutritional meals;
  • Ability to communicate with coaches, team members, family and friends; and
  • Accommodations, including beds, showers and laundry.

The 2015 study findings also raised an interesting paradox in that athletes wanted to minimize distractions that might detract from their performance, and wanted to experience the cultural and social aspects of the event, in part for anxiety reduction. For example, many athletes wanted to be at the opening ceremonies but were not allowed to participate because it was too close to their competition (e.g., the morning after the ceremony).  

Consideration of the impact of the event service environment on athletes’ physiological needs and psychological wellbeing provides a more complete picture of what high performance athletes both need and want. My research shows that athletes gain enjoyment from competing, as well as through individual learning experienced through the various social and cultural experiences during the games both inside and outside of the athlete village. 

Leveraging the Research

Insights from this type of research are important for two reasons. First, they are used by local organizing committees to plan and implement key components of the athlete service environment at the Games, ensuring that accommodations, medical services, training facilities and access to the athletes’ support team bolster, rather than hinder, the athlete’s performance and overall experience at the games. For example, learning from previous host organizations about what works and what may need improvement is important for the Pan American Sport Organization and the local organizing committee. Like other major sport events of this kind, each iteration of the games builds on the experiences of the previous host. This is a part of the knowledge transfer that goes on between local organizing committees, and is a reason why continuous research becomes important in the planning process.

Second, research and evaluation of athletes’ experiences provide critical insight for coaches and other sport leaders about the need to carefully weigh performance expectations with the athletes’ engagement in the broader experience of the games. This experience includes not only performing at ones best in competition, but also enjoying the excitement of the Games’ various sport competitions, engaging with fans and media, and taking in the social and cultural aspects that the city has to offer.  


About the Author(s)

Eric MacIntosh is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on creating an athlete-centred games. He has worked with several prominent sport event organizations including the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Olympic Committee through his work with the youth games. He is co-author of Organizational Behavior in Sport Management and co-editor of International Sport Management.