Athletes' health care services in the Finnish sports academies
In today´s top-level sport environment, requirements to achieve success are demanding and athletic competition has totalized into a competition between sport systems. In order to keep up in this race, sport in Finland has recently been under intense organizational construction and development. As one of the three strategic components of the Finnish elite sport system, Sports Academy Program serves aspiring young athletes to combine studies with sport, and offers diverse services to support their careers, including athletes´ health care services. Illnesses and injuries significantly lower the performance capacity of athletes, and constitute risk for their careers. As sport has become one of the biggest businesses in the world, the importance of health in contemporary high-level sports has also grown. Athletes´ health care has received a significant meaning in the sport systems, and its proper organization can contribute to sporting success. Therefore it is timely to pay attention to the way athletes´ health care services are organized within the Finnish elite sport system. This study examines the current state of the athletes´ health care services offered by the Finnish Sports Academies, as well as the organizational structures of these services in different Sports Academies. Also, it aims to provide an answer about how the Sports Academy health care services should be developed in the future to better support the athletes. The data combines quantitative material from an online-based Academy athlete questionnaire with qualitative data from semi-structured expert interviews in three selected Sports Academies. The results suggest that even though there is clear need for health care services targeted for young athletes, the Sports Academy health care services are not currently used to a large extent. Also the service procedures and the level of integration with athletes´ daily training do not yet meet the targets set for the Sports Academy health care services. Despite the uniform guidelines formed by the Finnish Olympic Committee, there are remarkable practical level differences in the organizational structures and service prices between different Academies. The practical level differences however seem not to have affected the perceived satisfaction with the services. Based on the findings, suggestions for development of the services were given, including equalizing the price levels between different Academies and improvements in information procedures. The results can be exploited to contribute to the development of the Sports Academy Program. ...
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