The Influences of Peer and University Culture on Female Student Athletes' Perceptions of Career Termination, Professionalization, and Social Isolation

By Riemer, Brenda A.; Beal, Becky et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Influences of Peer and University Culture on Female Student Athletes' Perceptions of Career Termination, Professionalization, and Social Isolation


Riemer, Brenda A., Beal, Becky, Schroeder, Pete, Journal of Sport Behavior


Research about student athletes in higher education has often addressed how sport participation affects academic commitment. In the 1980s, studies shifted the focus from identifying categorical variables of success to investigating the social processes that impacted the students' academic success (e.g., Adler & Adler, 1985; Meyer, 1990). The purpose of this study was to determine whether the processes noted in the previous literature about student athletes' experiences of college were applicable to current U.S. female elite collegiate athletes. Qualitative interviews were conducted with female collegiate tennis and basketball athletes from the midwest and the west coast. Three prominent themes were identified by the investigators: career termination, professionalization, and social isolation. These themes were discussed in terms of how they may effect the academic commitment of elite collegiate athletes.

Research about student athletes in higher education often addresses how sport participation affects academic commitment and graduation rates (Eitzen & Sage, 1997). One method for assessing this relationship is to determine categorical variables that predict graduation rates. Another method is to identify social processes that impact one's commitment to graduate. The latter method incorporates the student athletes' perceptions as central to the analysis of these social processes. The purpose of this study was to determine whether processes noted in previous literature about student athletes' experiences in college were currently applicable to U.S. elite collegiate athletes. In particular, we were interested in examining how these processes influenced the student athletes' commitment to do well in school, which we refer to as academic commitment.

Quantitative studies have predicted academic achievement by identifying how different demographic factors (e.g., race, gender, sport classification) affect graduation rates (Eitzen & Sage, 1997). The graduation rates analyzed for various groups (gender, race, sport participation) during the later I 980s indicated that women student athletes had the highest graduation rates, exceeding those of the general student body and of the female student body. The lowest graduation rates occured for men in highly commercialized sport, such as football and basketball, with black men having lower graduation rates than their white counterparts (Eitzen & Sage, 1997). It has been noted that there are various techniques to accumulating and analyzing graduation rates, each rendering different results (Coakley, 1995). Nonetheless, studies have identified several social factors that predict educational attainment, such as educational preparation (high school grade point average and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores), race, gender, and participation in a highly commercialized sport (Lewis, 1993).

Very few studies have examined how the student athletes interpret and respond to the social conditions of being in a commercialized Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) program. Eitzen and Sage (1997) refer to such programs as corporate sport because they often run similar to business with the goal of producing revenue. The most comprehensive qualitative study of commercialized collegiate sport was Adler and Adler's (1985) multi-year investigation of a men's basketball team. Meyer (1990) used the findings of Adler and Adler to determine whether women had similar experiences.

Adler and Adler (1985) contended that the social conditions of high profile Division I sport were as significant to student athletes' educational experiences and outcomes as their demographic predictors. They found that the men's basketball players gradually detached from academic goals and ideals. Adler and Adler addressed several social processes of corporate sport that encouraged student athlete disengagement from academic ideals. First, the amount of time and energy the students put into practice and in other related responsibilities (e. …

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