Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Talented Female Athletes: Are They Going for Gold?

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Talented Female Athletes: Are They Going for Gold?

Article excerpt

This article describes case study research investigating how gifted females perceive their talents by exploring the beliefs and experiences of 18 females who have been identified as athletically talented by their secondary school's sports academy. A comprehensive review of literature and previous studies regarding gifted females and females' attitudes toward sport and physical activity highlighted four key themes worthy of further investigation: self-perceptions of ability, relationship issues, outside expectations and pressures, and future plans. Through questionnaires and a focus group interview, it was found that participants did nor perceive themselves as significantly talented or special in any way. However, the study also reveals that, on the whole, the participants enjoyed being athletically talented and would nor wish to be any different. Both positive and negative aspects of being considered athletically talented were acknowledged, with the positive factors being mainly in regards to increased confid ence and self-esteem and opportunities to meet new people, while the negative problems were predominantly centered around friendship issues, gender problems, and outside pressures. The limitations of this research are recognized and implications for future practice and research are given.

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New Zealand's female athletes have a long history of "bringing home the gold": Yvette Williams was an Olympic gold medal winner for the long jump in 1952; Barbara Kendall has yachted her way home with gold, silver, and bronze medals; Sarah Ulmer, cyclist, wows the crowd; and Anna Lawrence has shown her stuff on the hockey field. The first female trainer behind a Melbourne cup winner was Shelia Laxon, another Kiwi gal. The New Zealand Women's Rugby Team is a two-rime winner of the Women's Rugby World Championship, and the Silver Ferns, the women's netball ream, were the 2001 winners of the Tri-Nations series. Most recently, New Zealand women have won gold, silver, and bronze medals in over 30 events of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. In a sporting nation where giftedness is conceptualized from a multicategorical, multicultural perspective and is inclusive of athletics, these women serve as national icons--heroines who have achieved nor only in their sport, but also the respect, praise, and admiration of their fel low countrymen, women, and children.

While one might assume that New Zealand would have advanced and effective processes for identifying and harnessing such talent, a process that should begin in the formative years of one's education, the reality is that little has been done to cater appropriately to talented young sportswomen. A major concern to educators of gifted and talented students is the underachievement of females, and while New Zealand women have demonstrated their sporting prowess and athleticism, one cannot help but wonder how many more gold medals could be brought home if educators had insight into the experiences of young talented sportswomen. The ability to obtain this insight is restricted by the lack of research and literature surrounding the development of athletic talent. Most of the research related to gifted and talented females has concentrated on intellectual and academic giftedness. It is, however, a widely accepted view that many of the issues would be similarly evident regardless of the area of talent.

Examining talent development amongst adolescent female athletes requires "marrying" two very different fields of education: physical education and gifted and talented education. For some, this could prove a rather contentious partnership, for it must be acknowledged that sports have often been considered by advocates of gifted education as anti-intellectual. Analogies of coaches, equipment, starting line-up teams, and trophies are often used in arguing the case of equity. Indeed, there may be "imbalance" in the recognition given to athletic versus academic excellence within the education system and society at large. …

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