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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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2 The making of an ice princess

In women’s figure skating and artistic gymnastics, teenagers often succeed early because the current scoring systems put performers with small and flexible bodies at a significant advantage. Different rules and scoring systems result in different types of bodies. Compare, for example, the significantly different physiques of Olympic artistic gymnasts (short and powerful) and rhythmic gymnasts (taller and more slender). At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 16-year-old artistic gymnast Amy Tinkler was Great Britain’s youngest medallist. She is only 1.46 m (4 feet 10 inches) tall. Sporting success can, in some cases, be achieved before puberty.

In 2016, the BBC followed young child athletes Lily, 11, and Genevieve, 12, and their families as the young athletes pursued their dreams of becoming ‘ice princesses’ in competitive figure skating.

Activity 2 Children, coaching and choices

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch the following video featuring Lily and Genevieve. Look for the way Lily and Genevieve interact with their family and coach. How do the girls speak and react to those around them? It is thought that these interactions influence aspects of motivation.

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The level of commitment to training at such a young age might be a little unsettling to watch for some. You mostly saw Lily on the ice and it appears that she is self-motivated, with parents who facilitate her training. The tone of her interactions and behaviour with her coach appears to be warm.

In contrast, Genevieve appears to be shy with a closely involved mother who contributes to coaching. Her mother says that aspects of their parent/child relationship can be hard to balance in relation to sporting matters. It is not clear how much autonomy or control over her sporting world Genevieve has: in the clip her mother appeared to push her.

A video of children training intensely gives us an opportunity to reflect on the purpose and outcomes of children’s sport. Research suggests that a balanced life in sport, education and with peers/family is ideal.

You can perhaps understand why there are minimum age limits for senior international competitions in figure skating (15 years) and gymnastics (16 years).