Higher-degree research being undertaken by Kristy O'Neill




Dr Wayne Cotton

Thesis title:

Early developmental environment and Olympic success: an analysis of Australia’s top sporting communities.



Project description

This study aims to identify Australia’s most successful sporting communities and the reasons for their ability to produce a greater relative number of Australian born summer Olympians (1984-2012). Birthplace effect (Baker, Shuiskiy & Schorer; Côté, Macdonald, Baker, & Abernethy, 2006) has previously been observed across several countries and sports, although to date no known study has involved Australian Olympic athletes. This study will be mixed-methods and involve a joint case study analysis of three of Australia’s top sporting Local Government Areas (LGAs) followed by a retrospective analysis of the developmental pathways of past Olympic athletes from the identified LGAs. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, 2005) “Ecological Systems Theory” will be utilised in order to investigate several individual, social, contextual and environmental factors which may have the potential to influence athletic development at the micro, meso, exo and macro levels.

Results of this study may have the potential to inform the wider sporting and talent identification community about some of the modifiable and non-modifiable factors which can influence an athlete’s early developmental environment and subsequent sporting performance.

Kristy O'Neill has a background in teaching and previously completed a BEd (Human Movement and Health Education – University Medal and Honours Class I) at the University of Sydney. During her time at the university, Kristy has worked in a range of research, administration and teaching roles, most recently within the faculty as a tutor in Human Movement and Health Education with BEd (Primary) students. She has also previously been a research assistant on coaching and physical education projects overseen by the University of Wollongong and Charles Sturt University. In the final year of her PhD, Kristy is well-supported by her supervision team Dr Wayne Cotton and Associate Professor Donna O’Connor; a continuation of a working relationship that began in 2009 when she was a Research Assistant in a large-scale junior Rugby League project.


  • International Olympic Committee (IOC) PhD Students Research Grant (2015)
  • Young Investigators Award – Best Oral Presentation (International Convention of Science, Education and Medicine in Sport, Glasgow, 2012)
  • Australian Postgraduate Award (APA)

Conference presentation

  • O'Neill, K. (2012). Factors influencing the development of Australian Olympic athletes: the impact of relative age effect and early specialisation. International Convention of Science, Education and Medicine in Sport (ICSEMIS) 2012. Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, Glasgow, 20 July 2012.