Learning and being in sport

  • athletes at a sporting event

Although sport is habitually promoted as an important context for positive youth development and learning, there is a lack of understanding of what learning in sport is and how it shapes and is shaped by the learner’s identity, values, and socio-cultural situatedness.

In the MSCA-IF funded project Learning and Being in Sport: A Phenomen-ological Investigation, we use the existential theory of education and phenomenological methodology to conceptualise and study informal learning in sport. We draw on an existential view on learning as meaning-making and insight arising from discontinuity and use it as a guiding framework to conduct empirical research into talented athletes’ lived experiences of learning in the Nordic context. The study is led by Dr Tatiana Ryba (University of Jyväskylä) in collaboration with Prof Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson at the University of Lincoln, and colleagues at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and Liverpool John Moores University. 

Our research adopts a gendered lens and draws on an assumption that our being-in-the-world and learning experiences are interpreted within a matrix of social and cultural meanings providing differing resources for thinking, feeling and acting for boys/men and girls/women. Sport, in particular, is an institution embedded within traditional masculine values and often promotes ways of being that conform to notions of hegemonic masculinity (physically strong, psychologically tough, independent, and rational). Despite efforts at promoting equity, women are still underrepresented in sports across the globe and often experience a conflict between the cultural life scripts for women and the values, actions, and types of learning promoted in competitive sport.

In the context of our research, it is particularly important to recognise that women more often than men struggle with feelings of inferiority and lack of confidence in sport which stem from gendered cultural resources for learning and development. Our study addresses gender in the research content by recruiting an equal number of young women and men in our research participants and analysing their interviews in regards to gendered patterns of meaning. We will seek to enhance understanding of the impact of culture on producing gender differences in youth athletes’ experiences, learning and development. Via phenomenological bracketing, we will also challenge assumptions and presuppositions regarding gender in sport. There is also a gender balance in the key collaborators in our research team (two women and two men), and Prof Allen-Collinson specialises in feminist phenomenology and chairs the Athena SWAN Committee (for gender equality) in her department at the University of Lincoln. To further address gender issues, the project involves training on gender theory for the researcher, a delivery of a workshop involving discussion on gender for end-users, and presentation of the findings in relation to the gender dimension in conferences and lectures. Through the project, we aim to develop recommendations for policy and practice for how to support gender equality and improve the quality of informal learning in and through sport.