(Re)Negotiating Motherhood and Athletic Identity through Journey and Challenge: A Cultural Analysis of Elite Athlete Representations in Sport Media Narratives

Kerry McGannon, Laurentian University, Canada

Theme: Social and cultural diversity

Program ID: LEC-10A

Presentation: October 4, 2013 8:15 am - 9:30 am

Room: Jasperwood


Pregnancy and motherhood have been highlighted as reasons why women may end their sport careers or not reach full potential in sport (Appleby & Fisher, 2009; Palmer & Liberman, 2009). Recent sport media portrayals of athletes pursuing competitive sport during pregnancy and beyond show motherhood and athletics are not mutually exclusive. While studies on these media representations of athlete mothers are a lacking, a recent study in sport psychology exploring the representations of marathon runner Paula Radcliffe’s pregnancies in Runner’s World magazine revealed an interplay of complex narratives concerning athletics and motherhood which warrant further attention to expand understanding of athlete mothers in socio-cultural context (McGannon, Curtin, Schinke & Schweinbenz, 2012). The current study used cultural sport psychology to explore motherhood and athletic identities as socio-cultural creations shaped by discourses which have implications for psychological experiences and behaviours (McGannon & Schinke, 2013). Fourteen North American athlete-mothers (ages 26-39) were represented in news media narratives collected from 2011-2012 (n = 69) and were analysed via ethnographic content analysis (Altheide, 1996). Analysis revealed a higher order narrative within which athlete and mother identities were constructed: motherhood and athletics as a journey and a challenge. The meaning(s) of the journey and challenge narrative emerged differently, constructing motherhood and athletic identities in three distinct ways: 1. athlete and mother in conflict (mental and physical challenges are not easily overcome due to women’s biology), 2. athlete and mother as negotiated (guilt, fatigue, and role conflict were challenges linked to an ethic of care and rigours of athletics) and 3. athlete and mother as melded (challenges of athletics and motherhood are coping strategies that enhance life perspective, resilience and athletic performance). The psychological, behavioural and socio-cultural implications of these identities are discussed within the context of motherhood and elite athletic pursuits.

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