“None of the Kids are Allowed to Eat Junk at the Pool": Discourses of "Optimal Nutrition" in Competitive Youth Swimming and the Impact on Athlete Welfare"

By Melanie Lang.

Published by The International Journal of Sport and Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: May 14, 2015 $US5.00

In modern competitive sport, athletic success is posited as a result of more than simply being physically fit. Rather, understandings of the ‘best’ way to physically prepare as an athlete, underpinned by bio-scientific discourses of performance that emphasize rationalistic concepts of productivity, efficiency and conformity, have come to attribute certain meanings to athletes’ preparation, including that they must comply with strict training regimes and controlled lifestyles to achieve success. Within this, ensuring ‘appropriate’ nutritional intake is considered crucial. However, knowledge of coaches’ discourses in relation to athlete development and how they enact this in their practice is under researched, particularly in relation to coaches’ work with child athletes and in relation to coaches’ understandings of discourses of athlete nutrition. This paper aims to contribute to these knowledge gaps. The paper reports the findings from an ethnographic study into coaches’ understanding of good practice when working with competitive youth swimmers and how they enact this in their practice. The study comprised an ethnography of three competitive youth swimming clubs at different levels of the performance spectrum. One of the key findings from the study was that coaches considered it good practice to educate youth athletes about what they referred to as ‘good’ or ‘optimal’ nutrition and consequently, particularly among coaches at the elite level, they enforced strict dietary rules to achieve this. The consequences of exposing youth athletes to such practices are discussed in relation to the health and wellbeing of (child) athletes.

Keywords: Youth swimming, Athlete Welfare, Sports Nutrition

The International Journal of Sport and Society: Annual Review, Volume 5, May 2015, pp.11-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: May 14, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 425.442KB)).

Dr. Melanie Lang

Senior Lecturer Child Protection in Sport, Department of Sport and Physical Activity, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK