Going abroad to play: Motivations, challenges, and support of sports expatriates

Marian van Bakel*, Susan Salzbrenner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Professional athletes moving abroad for their career is a novel phenomenon in international human resource management (IHRM). This exploratory article charts the motivations of sports expatriates to move abroad to play, as well as adjustment challenges and sources of support. A survey was conducted with 77 professional athletes in 10 different sports. The main motivations to move abroad were interest to experience life abroad, followed by the search for new challenges. In terms of challenges, different coaching style and communication issues were most often mentioned. Support was mainly informal, through team mates rather than professional providers. Our article contributes to the literature because it is one of the first studies focusing on sports expatriates from an international HR perspective. Our study provides information on a vulnerable group of expatriates; they are young in age and under extreme performance pressure. Sports expatriates need all the support they can get, and yet, little professional support is offered.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThunderbird International Business Review
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)505-517
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • challenges
  • international human resource management (IHRM)
  • self-initiated expatriates (SIEs)
  • sports expatriates
  • support


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