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Developing an Athlete

As athletes strive for the Olympic Gold this summer in London, Anthropology News takes an anthropological look into the Games.

Jennifer Fiers leads readers through the development of elite athletes in her article Paradoxes of Power in Professionalized Youth Sport. Fiers identifies the power and influence coaches have over athletes, the embrace of their athletic identity and the vulnerability of these individuals. Below is an excerpt, click here for the complete article.

While spectators of the Olympic Games marvel at the feats of (pre)adolescent elite athletes, the symbol of their participation is normalized without question: training and discipline from an early age leads to achievement of “ideal human potential.” But across sports, the culture of performance enhancement is comprised of paradoxes between empowerment and disempowerment that are constantly negotiated by youth athletes, their coaches and their parents. These paradoxes exist in daily practices, involving pain and discipline, performed to enhance athletes’ physical and psychological skills as well as commitment to the athlete identity. Youth athletes are still developing physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially through adolescence. This both influences and is influenced by their training regimens. But many parents and coaches, with the best intentions, overlook this by prioritizing performance over well-being when they view athletes as mini-professionals instead of liminal persons in transition. Based on my doctoral research and over 20 years’ experience with elite youth sport, in particular Florida junior tennis, I explore issues related to well-being and (dis)empowerment of “professionalized youth athletes”—trained from young ages for professional/Olympic careers. These issues merit further anthropological study as they raise additional questions about the experience of sport, youth, the body, health, well-being and power.

Click here to read the entire article.

Read more Olympic articles in the new online summer edition of Anthropology News.


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