Humanization in high performance sport: Introducing a value-based framework to explore athletes’ experience.

Authors: Kavanagh, E. and Brady, A.J.

Conference: British Philosophy of Sport Association

Dates: 8-9 April 2013


The notion that sport automatically conveys physical, psychological and social benefits is being increasingly challenged (Fraser-Thomas & Cote, 2007), as threats to well-being are considered to increase with athletes’ investment in sport (Coakley, 2004; Gervis & Dunn, 2004; Beamish & Ritchie, 2006). In his study exploring the experiences of high performance (HP) athletes, Wrisberg (1996) concluded that high performance sport has such hypnotic power it discourages penetrating inquiry into its effects on participants. Non-performance topics rarely receive attention within academic literature associated with what Hoberman (1992) refers to as the dehumanisation of the HP athlete, where s/he is viewed as an experimental subject whose sufferings are a natural part of the drama of sport. The purpose of this presentation is to introduce a values framework for recognizing practices associated with humanization and dehumanization in high performance (HP) sport. Through this framework a case is made for appreciating the importance of understanding the athlete as a whole person and the need to promote humanization in HP sport. The values framework is based upon the work of Todres, Galvin and Holloway (2009) who applied it in a healthcare setting. Humanizing and dehumanizing aspects of HP sport will be discussed through the framework’s eight continua which include: Insiderness - Objectification; Agency - Passivity; Uniqueness - Homogenization; Sense of place - Dislocation; Togetherness – Isolation; Sense-making - Loss of Meaning; Personal Journey - Loss of Personal Journey; Embodiment - Reductionist body.

Athletes’ narratives are used illuminate the general dimensions of the framework and show how each of the principles resonate with real life experiences in HP Sport. Understanding performers’ experiences and hearing their stories may provide valuable insight with which to review and advance praxis. As such, the framework offers a unique and valuable heuristic for scaffolding the critical reflection of practitioners and researchers in HP sport.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Emma Kavanagh