Sport Participation for Elite Athletes With Physical Disabilities: Motivations, Barriers, and Facilitators

Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2017 Oct 1;34(4):421-441. doi: 10.1123/apaq.2016-0127. Epub 2017 Oct 6.


There are many reasons why individuals are motivated to participate in sports. Less attention, however, is given for studying motivation and athlete development in adapted sport. The purpose of this study was to identify the motivations, facilitators, and barriers to sports participation of elite athletes with a physical disability. Participants (N = 23, 17 males, six females, mean age: 24.3 years) were recruited through online listservs, e-mails, and snowball sampling. A semistructured interview guide was employed. Analysis was conducted and grounded in self-determination theory and literature surrounding barriers and facilitators of sports participation. Through coding by multiple researchers, six themes emerged. Themes indicated that athletes attributed participation to constructs of self-determination theory as well as overcoming specific barriers such as cost, time constraints, and lack of opportunity. Among facilitators to their athletic development, there were empowerment and advocacy, increased health, college scholarships, and achieving performance-related goals.

Keywords: athletes with physical disabilities; elite sport participation; self-determination theory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sports*
  • Young Adult