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Body pedagogies, coaching and culture: three Australian swimmers' lived experiences


McMahon, J and Penney, D, Body pedagogies, coaching and culture: three Australian swimmers' lived experiences, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 18, (3) pp. 317-335. ISSN 1740-8989 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2012 Association for Physical Education

DOI: doi:10.1080/17408989.2012.666786


Background: This paper reports doctoral research that explored body pedagogies in sport coaching and culture. Few studies have focused on body pedagogies as an integral dimension of sport coaching and on the experience of being coached and a member of a particular sporting culture. Even less is known about the long-term impact that particular body pedagogies may have on athletes’ lives, health and well-being.

Purpose: This paper seeks to contribute to a growing literature that acknowledges coaching as a complex pedagogical and social process. It reports on research aimed at providing new insights into the expression and lived experiences of body pedagogies in the context of elite and sub-elite swimming. A particular aim of the research was to address the impact, if any, of body pedagogies on swimmers’ lives, health and wellbeing – first, at the time when the participants were adolescent elite and sub-elite swimmers, and second, some 10–30 years later.

Methods: The research utilised narrative ethnography and autoethnography to explore the experiences of three female participants as adolescents participating at sub-elite and elite levels in Australian swimming, and as adults. Semi-structured interviews and collaborative development of narrative accounts were used to generate stories of experiences as adolescent swimmers and as adults in the present day.

Findings: The experiences of these three swimmers suggest that body pedagogies focused on weight, shape, body fat and performance permeated Australian competitive swimming culture. These body pedagogies formed prominent aspects of the discourse of the participants’ coaches and their practice within this study. Furthermore, body pedagogies were shown to have powerful and long-standing influence upon the participants’ feelings about their bodies and themselves. This research also suggests, however, elements of mediation of and resistance to dominant ideas and established pedagogical practices.

Conclusion: The research provides vivid insights into the subtle yet extremely powerful ways in which particular ideas ‘operate’ and become integral to ways of ‘being’ and ‘acting’ through body pedagogies within but also beyond both the sub-elite and elite contexts of Australian swimming sporting culture. Docility was shown by the three swimmers as they internalised body pedagogies and control, until they became their own ‘controller or overseer’ of their swimmer bodies. This points to a need for more research that focuses on the experiences and impact of body pedagogies in sport coaching.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:swimming, ethnography, autoethnography, pedagogy, narrative
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Curriculum and pedagogy
Research Field:Physical education and development curriculum and pedagogy
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Other education and training
Objective Field:Other education and training not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:McMahon, J (Associate Professor Jennifer McMahon)
ID Code:80419
Year Published:2013 (online first 2012)
Web of Science® Times Cited:22
Deposited By:Education
Deposited On:2012-10-31
Last Modified:2018-02-05

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