“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

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In modern competitive sport, athletic success is posited as a result of more than simply being physically fit (Johns and Johns, 2000; Romana, 2010). 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 (Lang, 2010; Potrac et al., 2000). 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 (Jones, Glintmeyer and McKenzie, 2005), particularly in relation to coaches’ work with child athletes and coaches’ understandings and enacting of discourses of athlete nutrition. This paper aims to shed light on the discourses coaches draw on in relation to athlete nutrition and how they enact these in their practice to inform and enhance youth coaching practice. It reports the findings from an ethnographic study into coaches’ understandings of good practice when working with competitive youth swimmers. The study comprised an ethnography of three competitive youth swimming clubs at different levels of the performance spectrum. One key finding 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 such practices are discussed in relation to the health and wellbeing of (child) athletes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal of Sport and Society: Annual Review
Early online date14 May 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 May 2015


  • athlete welfare
  • youth swimming
  • eating disorders
  • performance discourse
  • youth sport

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