Illness, injury and sporting identity : a case study of women's rowing
The purpose of this project was to explore the injury experiences of female amateur British rowers located within a symbolic interactionist framework. The study intended to ascertain the major injury-risk factors and inform future practice. This follows the logic of previous researchers who have identified a culture of risk in sporting subcultures (Nixon, 1992) and have presented evidence of injuries related to participation in rowing (Bernstein, 1995; Edgar, 1999). A typology is presented identifying the key risk factors in rowing. A questionnaire was administered to rowers during the 1997 regatta season. The themes identified from this questionnaire were explored further through a period of participant observation in two rowing clubs, and semi-structured interviews conducted with members of both clubs and their coaches. The findings identified that it jury should be considered as part of a broader experience of illness in sport. The participants in the study had limited recognition of their vulnerability to illness and injury as a result of their involvement in rowing. The major risk factors appeared to be the high level of commitment expected of the rowers, pressures from significant others within the subculture (in particular the coaches), and inadequate medical support for amateur athletes. Illness and injury are considered to be embodied and emotional experiences, affecting the athlete's body project (Shilling, 1993). The stigma of such fatal flaws (Goffman, 1969; Sparkes, 1996) has the potential to disrupt the individual's sense of self as athlete andlor as female, which occasionally led to compensatory behaviour. It is suggested that coaching practice needs to be more humanistic than performanceoriented Furthermore, non-orthodox, complementary health care is recommended to offer women a more supportive environment for taking control of their own medical practice. Finally, it is believed that there is a need for greater dialogue between sociologists of sport and other sport scientists and medical professionals in order to develop a more holistic approach to working with sports participants.