20

WHEN THE BALANCE IS GONE

The sport and retirement experiences of elite female gymnasts

Anna Dacyshyn

This study grew out of my personal interest in the topic of sport retirement. After being an elite athlete on the Canadian National Diving Team and then experiencing my own transition from sport, I had first-hand experience with the dramatic change of lifestyle and identity transformation that often is associated with retirement. I knew the feelings of loss and sadness that were associated with saying goodbye to a lifetime passion and to lifelong goals and dreams. I did this study because I wanted to contribute to our understanding of issues faced by high performance athletes as they retire from active competition.

When I began designing my thesis at the University of Toronto my goal was to do a research project that had practical implications. My review of past research indicated that many athletes experience retirement as a difficult time of adjustment. Retiring athletes often feel anger, confusion, decreased self-confidence, and concern for the future, they generally feel alone and unique in their experience (Danish et al. 1993). Some suffer more serious difficulties such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even attempted suicide. Programs to assist retired athletes have been implemented in Canada and the USA, but their main emphasis is on career planning. They have not been designed to provide emotional support or a context in which athletes can share their feelings as they make the transition out of their competitive careers and into the rest of their lives (Donnelly 1993; Pearson and Petitpas 1990). So I designed an experimental program to provide emotional support and a context for expressing feelings to a small group of retiring athletes as they made the transition from competitive sports into the rest of their lives. My goal was to study the effectiveness of this type of program.

My original sample consisted of five athletes. There were four swimmers (men and women) and one female gymnast. I conducted an initial interview with each athlete about his or her transition. All of the swimmers seemed to be experiencing remarkably easy transitions, while the gymnast was quite distressed and described her transition as very difficult. Because the swimmers did not need the program I wanted to study, I abandoned my original thesis idea. But there were still questions that I wanted to answer. For example, what factors accounted for the fact that the

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Inside Sports
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface xiv
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction xvi
  • 1 - Young Children's Social Constructions of Physicality and Gender 7
  • 2 - Through the Eyes of Youth 17
  • 3 - Playing Sports and Social Acceptance 28
  • 4 - Late to the Line 37
  • 5 - Little League Mothers and the Reproduction of Gender 46
  • 6 - Rock Climbers and Rugby Players 67
  • 7 - Making Decisions 77
  • 8 - Becoming an International Athlete 86
  • 9 - Coming of Age in North America 96
  • 10 - Becoming 100 Percent Straight 104
  • 11 - The Game Begins at Home 111
  • 12 - High School Football 133
  • 13 - Skateboarding 139
  • 14 - Being Physical 146
  • 15 - Jay White Hawk 156
  • 16 - College Athletes in High-Profile Media Sports 162
  • 17 - Fans, Status, and the Gift of Golf 171
  • 18 - Wives Incorporated 180
  • 19 - Threats to Sport Careers 203
  • 20 - When the Balance is Gone 214
  • 21 - Moving On 223
  • 22 - Retiring from the Sideline 232
  • Index 241
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