Objectives To assess differences in career longevity, as a potential marker of athlete well-being, before and after the 1995 implementation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Age Eligibility Rule (AER) and Player Development Programmes (PDP), which focused on organisational, physical and psychosocial education, skill building and support for adolescent athletes (≤17 years).
Methods Career longevity data were collected through 2019 on adolescent players who began professional tournament play between 1970 and 2014 and reached a WTA singles ranking of 1–150 for a minimum of 1 week during their careers. Players were separated into pre-AER/PDP and post-AER/PDP groups, consisting of those who played their first professional events (FPE) before or after 1 January 1995. Measures of career longevity included career duration and premature retirement.
Results Eight-hundred and eleven players were included in this study (51% pre-AER/PDP). The median career duration was 14.2 years for the post-AER/PDP group compared with 12.1 years for the pre-AER/PDP group (p<0.001). Moreover, post-AER/PDP players had higher probabilities of 10-year and 15-year careers compared with pre-AER/PDP players. After adjusting for age at FPE, athletes in the pre-AER/PDP group had an increased risk of shorter career duration (HR 1.55; 95% CI 1.31 to 1.83) and increased odds of premature retirement (OR 5.39; 95% CI 2.28 to 12.75) than athletes in the post-AER/PDP group.
Conclusions Adolescent athletes participating on the WTA after the combined AER/PDP initiative had longer career durations, higher probabilities of 10-year and 15-year careers, and decreased risk of premature retirement compared with those participating prior to AER/PDP. Organisational practices that encompass both education and competition regulation can positively affect career longevity related to improving athlete well-being.
Data availability statement
No data are available. Data used in this manuscript are contained in a WTA database and not publicly available.
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Contributors All authors contributed to, reviewed and approved the final manuscript. SK is the guarantor of this manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests AK, TL, KS and SV are employed full-time by the WTA Tour. CLO, BH, CH, NAJ, RJ, KS and AQ are all members of the WTA Player Development Advisory Panel. RJ additionally serves as a player development consultant and advisor to the WTA performance health team. SAK and EK declare no competing interests.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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