It is important that the support structures offered to young athletes provide the skills, structures and environmental factors that act as key determinants and mechanisms of development. Baker and Horton (2004) suggest that there are both primary (ie, genetics, training, and psychological factors) and secondary (ie, socio-cultural factors and contextual factors) influences on talent development. Reflecting the latter, this study examined the effect of social, physical and life-skill factors within a high performance (HP) environment. Semi-structured, qualitative interviews were held with a group of swimmers (n = 7), purposefully sampled on the basis of their established potential for elite performance. To triangulate the data, and guard against bias, a sample of coaches (n=7) and support staff (n = 2) were also recruited. An inductive content analysis was conducted following the recommendations of Coté et al (1993). Results suggest that a range of factors (eg, parental support, medical services, and time-management skills) impact on an athlete's ability to progress through a development programme and succeed as an elite athlete. Coach communication and the development of performance coaches were both identified as areas of weakness in the current support system. The coaches felt inadequately equipped with the skills and knowledge to develop HP athletes, and recommended a more ‘open door' policy between clubs and in turn between club and the HP Centre. This policy could rectify another key deficient issue identified by coaches and athletes by ‘bridging the gap' from club to HP Centre where talented athletes are not equipped, either physically or mentally, to deal with the increased demand and change in environment. Further research is currently taking place to track the needs analysis of HP athletes over the course of a year in the lead up to World Championship qualification.
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