Trampoline-gymnasts' embodied lives: An ethnographic study
Gymnastic bodies have been a relatively 'absent presence' in the literature. Despite patterns of problematic body issues (e.g., weight-control behaviours, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem) highlighted in elite artistic and rhythmic gymnasts, and national governing body recognition of these issues, we know very little about their embodied lives and even less about the experiences of trampoline-gymnasts. Thus, this work aimed to explore the embodied lives of trampoline-gymnasts as they progressed through their trampoline career.
An ethnographic study was conducted within one trampoline club over a period of 17 months. Thirty-six trampoline-gymnasts aged 6-21 years old took part, providing rich, stories of individuals' lives in and through various points of their trampoline career. An embodied narrative approach permeated the research design, framing the research aim and objectives, data collection, analysis and representation. An analytical focus on narrative structures within trampoline-gymnasts' stories produced ideas about how these young people narratively constructed and understood their embodied lives. Ultimately, over the course of their career, trampoline-gymnasts had little autonomy in making decisions about their sporting lives, particularly when choosing to enter and remain in the trampoline club. Coaches were key gatekeepers in selection and recruitment processes and parents decided if their children would join and remain in the club. Moreover, trampoline and gymnastic discourses restricted the types of bodies constructed in this group and impacted upon the ways in which their bodies were experienced. Options for retirement were also constrained by a limited number of narratives for preferred future selves and identities. Yet, being in this group gymnasts formed a sense of belonging and accomplishment which was long-lasting and engrained in the body-selves and identities they constructed.
Collectively, the research findings have provided an understanding of trampoline-gymnasts' embodied lives over the course of their career. A model of embodied careers in sport has been created, illustrating how trampoline-gymnasts' embodied experiences are narratively constructed and understood over time. Importantly, this work has given them a voice. Their storied experiences provide a potential platform for change, ensuring healthy and prolonged participation in this and other gymnastic disciplines.
- School of Sport and Health Sciences