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This girl can...well could

Our focus on “our sports” (as teachers and families) and on traditional sports acts as a very real barrier to participation for some while widening it for others. Choosing one sport over another sport is an active decision and it limits the ways in which children access different activities. Likewise, choosing not to ‘do’ or value a sport – either in the family or the school or community – is also a decision. While it is impossible to do everything we need to be aware that we are making decisions for the right reasons, which aren’t always the same as our reasons.

 

Volume 2.11 (Blog 106):

Harvey, S., Pope, S. Fletcher, I., & Kerner, C. (2014). Jenny: Specialist needs for the specialising phase. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 144-155). London: Routledge.

 

Jenny

Jenny’s biggest love is field hockey. She has been playing for a while now and is beginning to receive some recognition for her ability. As a mature girl for a thirteen year old she has been selected (a year early) for her regional development group.  Indeed, the specialised coaches she gets to work with think she is talented. While Jenny is tasked with improving her skills she seldom has access to facilities and opportunities at school to do this and there is no teacher prepared to help her out and run a team. When she tries to use the school fields in her lunchtimes she finds them taken up with boy’s football kickabouts and has no place to play. In short, Jenny has achieved what she has achieved more or less off her own back as her school doesn’t really play much field hockey. The youngest team at her local club is the Under 16s, and she has had to self-fund her £13 a week cost to train at both her club and junior academy sessions.

It’s not that her parents aren’t supportive of her but they both work long hours and bring home a combined yearly income that places them below the average earnings for England. They are very supportive of their child’s sporting aspirations but unfortunately that child isn’t Jenny but is instead her brother. He is a footballer (a soccer player) and is in the academy of a well-known football club. He is also considered talented and his parents (and their small disposable income and one car) are committed to getting him to all his training sessions and weekend matches.

With all the money and resources going to her brother, Jenny has had to self-finance and rely on her friend’s parents to get to her hockey training. Up until now this has worked but she is the only one of her friends to be selected for the regional development group and can no longer get a lift; which she needs because it is 30 miles away. For the first time her hockey involvement needs her parents physical support but they have made their investment in her bother’s football. The perceived status and perceived revenue that comes from professional football is such that her parents are not prepared to risk his chances at the ‘big time’ to help her succeed. Boys and men’s sport has much higher status, income and ‘TV time’ than women’s sport and they are simply ‘blinded’ to her sporting potential.

That said Jenny isn’t blind to the images she sees of athletic women and she is beginning to aspire to an ‘ideal body’ for herself. As an early developer she has grown where many of her peers still hold on to their prepubescent figures. She constantly compares herself to them and the media profiles of high profile athletes. She has started to skip meals and opts for physical activity over poor food choices. She is unhappy that her parents don’t provide her with healthy options but is determined to lose weight.

  

The Pedagogical Case

Jenny is on the cusp of something potentially big – in terms of her elite sporting development – and the next few years will be critical. If she is able to focus on her talent and get the specialist support she needs then she might make it into elite hockey. If not then she has the potential to be a good player in a lower level team. That said she also needs to be educated about eating and body shape because her aspirations towards elite sport seem to focus too heavily on her body. In their chapter, Harvey and colleagues explore Jenny’s pedagogical case from a physiological, a sociological and a psychological perspective before taking an overarching pedagogical view of Jenny. 

Physiologically many national governing bodies (NGBs) have tried to model talent development and maximise sporting achievement through the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) system. The NGB for Hockey in the UK, “despite a lack of any long term evidence of the model’s efficacy and its very narrow focus, based around skill, speed, suppleness, stamina and strength” have implemented the LTAD system. Jenny, at 13, is involved in Hockey’s LTAD system and she is currently at the training to train phase and in two years she will move into the training to compete phase. Worryingly, at least according to the LTAD system, it may already be too late for Jenny to achieve her full genetic potential.

Taking a different physiological stance Harvey and colleagues suggest that while Jenny has learned “many of the fundamental movement skills” she needs to address her physical training patterns quickly or she may fail in her ambition to become an elite hockey player. Without specialised training she, like most adolescent girls, will struggle to improve “in strength, power and balance during/after puberty”. Of particular concern is her lack of resistance training (which is needed for “safer movement mechanics”) and her ability to use “stretch shortening cycle actions (which is “linked to her ability to land efficiently, absorb landing forces quickly, balance during ground contact, and enhance her proprioception (our sense of how our bodies are positioned) before producing a rapid forceful take off). If she was able to work on these aspects with a specialist she could increase her performances and reduce the risk of injury.

According to research in sociology sport is not the meritocratic (i.e. based on merit) activity that everyone supposes and through which everyone is allowed to play on a level-playing field. The cream, unfortunately, does not always rise to the top. In Jenny’s case her relatively low socio-economic background is an inhibiting factor. Costs play a part in participation. Costs in terms of time and money have a big impact on participation. Jenny has had to look for opportunities outside of her school but this means that, on the whole, she hasn’t been able to access sufficiently high quality coaching and has had to fund her own passion for hockey which also means she has had to balance work with play.

Income – or the lack of it - has also limited the family’s ability to help out and has limited the social network on which they can call to help with matters of transportation. Furthermore income – or the perceived lack of it - in elite women’s hockey is not as attractive as the possible income in professional men’s football. Consequently women’s hockey does not have the same status and prestige as traditional ‘male’ team sports. This is evidenced at lunchtimes at school where the playing areas are dominated by young males playing football at the expense of non-football playing (and therefor emasculated) boys and girls. In contrast most of the young females, research suggests, spend time in a preoccupation with feminine ideals of body image rather than in reclaiming these spaces.

Jenny’s case highlights, from a psychological perspective, a dysfunctional side of her athletic development. Both puberty and elite sport cast the spotlight on the “physical construction of the self” with an estimated 50-80% “of adolescent girls [expressing] a desire to become thinner”. This “period of enhanced body focus” is particularly prevalent in sporting contexts where there is social pressure to adopt a lean physique. There is increasing evidence to suggest that young athletes pay more attention to body image and diet which, in turn, can lead to “viewing their bodies in a distorted manner and displaying maladaptive eating behaviours”. Indeed, the “prevalence of eating disorders is significantly higher than would be found in the general population.”

Due to Jenny’s early development she is in danger of identifying herself as different to many of her peers. She sees a discrepancy between her ideal and her current self, which has increased her body dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction has been linked to negative health behaviours, physiological well-being factors, low self-esteem, depressive mood, and negative eating behaviours. Her preoccupation with performance can also lead to a preoccupation with “obtaining the ‘prefect body’ to meet this objective”.

Pedagogically there are a number of factors that could be considered but Harvey and colleagues chose to explore Jenny’s case from the coach and coaching perspective.

In short they suggested that if Jenny continues on her current path – one without the opportunities she wants and has been provided with (at least in hockey) - she may only reach a certain level of her potential. She needs to develop her game performance and this means working with a coach who subscribes to ideas of “enjoyment and success, the notion of deliberate practice, and family, school and club support”.

Gaining access to the regional performance centre is vital to Jenny if she is going to develop physically and in her game play. She will need access to coaches with greater professional knowledge and work in more game-situated practices – which is important to her “longer-term learning and development as well as performance”. The positive pedagogical approaches subscribed to by her NGB means that she will, hopefully, work with coaches who are more aware of the different coach behaviours they use and who focus less on what the player does and more on how she can improve her game performance.

Her involvement might also allow her to access travel funding and it could develop her social network and allow her to travel with someone from her own town. Further benefits could be gained if she could gain access to facilities at her school at lunchtimes – as these come at no additional cost.

What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor. Her help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

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