The Gymnastics Subculture: The Experiences of Adolescent, Competitive Female Gymnasts

Article excerpt

Windee M. Weiss, University of Virginia, and Sarah G. McCallister Southern Illinois University

This study was designed to examine the degree to which competitive gymnastics possesses characteristics of a subculture, and the impact of the gymnastics subculture on the lives of gymnasts. In-depth interviews were conducted with 16 competitive, female gymnasts, between the ages of 12 and 18 years, and who were currently competing at one of three levels (Level 8-10). The average length of the interviews was 54 min, and interviews were transcribed into verbatim text. Content analysis was then conducted for each of the characteristics investigated. Results indicated that six characteristics associated with sport subcultures were present: centrality of gymnastics, identity within the sport subculture, insider versus outsider mentality, stereotypes, argot, and values and norms. Two characteristics that were present, however, to a much lesser degree, were the communication network and rituals and superstitions among the gymnasts. One of the strongest characteristics of the gymnastics subculture was the centrality of gymnastics in these young girls' lives. Gymnastics was the top priority for many of these gymnasts, even more important than school. The gymnasts' identity and identification with the gymnastics subculture was a dominant force regarding their own personal view of themselves and others' views of these gymnasts. …