I have completed all the data collection from the competitive gymnasts in northeastern Ohio. I have entered the quantitative data into an excel spread sheet with categories including frequency of pressure and comments from coaches, home, school, friends, and oneself. I have noticed that the younger the gymnasts felt less pressure from coaches and didn’t notice comments about their bodies and health. However, older gymnasts, 16-18 years old, have said that they feel pressure from multiple sources nearly every day, and catch on to other people’s judgmental thoughts and comments about their body and health from coaches and friends. This has made me think about two things: the parallelism to the theory of mind and the indirect pressure in the form of fear of future judgement. The Theory of Mind is the continual growing of cognitive ability. It starts when younger kids believe that everyone knows what they know. Then they develop the ability to understand that another person may not understand what they are thinking. I believe that the ability to pick up on another’s opinion towards another increases, which would match the data that I have gathered. Younger gymnasts did not recognize their own body or other people’s opinions of them. However, the older gymnasts have a larger understanding of other’s opinions and more insecurity about their bodies. The second point is that some gymnasts may have enough insecurity about their body or appearance that they are proactive with their actions to avoid receiving comments and judgments from others. This means that a gymnast may take part in poor nutritional habits such as purging or restricting to prevent a coach, friend, family member, or themselves to think less of them.
My capstone is intriguing to me because it is an issue that I have witness throughout my own competitive career. I was in an intense environment filled with pressure from multiple sources, I witnessed gymnasts feeling the need to look a certain way to please their coaches, teammates, and judges. After leaving the gymnastics community, I wondered how often this occurs. Harsh pressure and eating disorders turnout to be a common issue nationwide for competitive gymnastics facilities. According to USAG, there is a high percentage of gymnasts who have received negative comments about their weight or appearance. Since coaches are the authority figure in an athletes career, this can make them try unhealthy eating habits which lead to poor performance. I am interested in the psychological side of eating disorders, so I will direct most of my questions to the source of their pressure. I know coaches do play a direct role; however, I am interested to see if gymnasts are receiving indirect pressure from these sources. This means that the athlete could be adapting these bad eating habits in order to escape the possibility of any coach, judge, or teammate saying anything about them. NCAA took a survey and stated that 51% of female gymnasts have an eating disorder which is far higher than any other sport (Eating Disorder Hope). This shows that there is a problem which the pressure held on these high athletes. I will also create questions that measure how often they feel pressure from each source: home, school, gym, and friends. I hope that the one on one interviews will shed more light on individual stories that have effected these gymnasts. Below I have added to links where more information can be found on eating disorders and gymnast nutrition.
I created a survey for high school aged gymnasts who are on a competitive optional gymnastics team. This survey includes questions about their normal diet, when they see changes in their diet, and how they work out outside of the gym during both competition season and off season. There were also questions about how they view themselves, what sources do they feel the most pressure, and how often they feel pressured to act a certain way. Before going to the gymnastics facility I was able to send a consent email to all of the parents of gymnasts at Gym World who are under the age of 18. When I went into the survey session I gave the coaches and gymnasts a background on myself and explained my capstone project. I then handed out the surveys. The athletes took about twenty minutes on average to complete the survey. Once everyone finished, I gave a brief lecture on the different hormones in the body that control hunger and the different eating disorders. I then shared some information and advice that I have learned from visiting a nutritionist. I then did five one-on-one interviews that took 15 minutes on average. I asked questions about particular stressors and situation that caused abnormal eating habits. I then was able to here their opinion on pressure and the sport of gymnastics. Once I obtained all the information from these gymnasts, I dictated the interviews and created frequency charts to compare the scale measurements for pressure from different sources. This information will then be used to make generalizations for this population of athletes.
Gymnastics is a highly competitive sport made up of graceful and powerful athletes who will risk almost anything to feel the podium under their feet and the weight of a medal around their neck. However, the trail to glory is filled with obstacles so physically and mentally draining that few achieve their highest hopes. Gymnastics is a subjectively judged sport where performance is scrutinized in all aspects including physical appearance. Highly competitive gymnastics facilities have created a stressful environment for athletes to perform, look, and weigh a certain way. This pressure can come in the form of verbal and mental harassment which can lead to long lasting repercussions such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. As the number of eating disorders in the gymnastics community increases, more athletes are going to have unhealthy nutritional habits that will be prevalent long after their gymnastics careers are over. Growing up in a highly competitive environment can produce multiple sources of pressure from coaches, judges, teammates, school, home, social media, to personal pressure which can radiate into eating disorders. The athletes who develop eating disorders endure direct pressure from multiple aspects of life and indirect pressure that is perceived through extreme fear of negative judgment which lead to unhealthy nutritional habits such as anorexia and bulimia.