Humanization in High Performance Sport: Introducing a values based framework for coaches and practitioners

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

Conference: International Council for Coaching Excellence

Dates: 11-13 September 2013


Introduction The notion that sport automatically conveys physical, psychological and social benefits is being increasingly challenged, as threats to well-being are considered to increase with high performance (HP) athletes’ investment in sport (Gervis & Dunn, 2004; Beamish & Ritchie, 2006; Fraser-Thomas & Cote, 2007). In a study exploring the experiences of HP athletes, Wrisberg (1996) concluded that quality of life was low for many athletes. Non-performance topics rarely receive attention within academic literature because the HP athlete is dehumanized and viewed as an experimental subject whose sufferings are a natural part of the drama of sport (Hoberman, 1992). It is proposed here, that it is only when the athlete is considered as a whole person and their humanness recognized that s/he is most likely to thrive and flourish within and beyond sport.

Argumentation 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. Both humanizing and dehumanizing aspects of HP sport will be discussed alongside 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.

Descriptions of the eight dimensions are supported by evidence of humanizing and dehumanizing discourses and practices drawn from primary research exploring international athletes’ experiences. The data presented is drawn from two qualitative studies conducted by the primary authors. International athletes (n=15; 6 male, 10 female, aged 19-30 years) were involved in semi-structured interviews lasting between 45-150 minutes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and used to extract narrative accounts of humanizing and dehumanizing experiences and practices in HP sport.


Athletes’ narratives 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 offers the industry valuable insights with which to review and advance praxis. As such the framework as a useful tool for scaffolding the critical reflection of coaches and other practitioners in HP sport.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Emma Kavanagh