Catherine Marie Mills PhD Thesis Defence

Title: “Skating the Line: A Narrative Inquiry-Based Study of Former Figure Skaters’ Tensions in their Sport”

Chair: Prof Janis McKenna (Physics)
Research Supervisor: Prof Robert Sparks (Kinesiology)
Research Co-Supervisor: Prof Larena Hoeber (University of Regina, Kinesiology and Health Studies)
University Examiners: Prof Laura Hurd Clarke (Kinesiology), Prof Susan Cox (Population and Public Health)
External Examiner: Prof Mary Louise Adams (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University)

Abstract: Figure skaters skate a fine line as they navigate pressures to execute physically demanding, technical skills while maintaining the aesthetics of movements, appearance, and musicality. These conditions along with embedded narratives of success and performance affect the experiences of every competitive figure skater. As a former figure skater and coach, in this research, I explore the experiences of figure skaters and the inherent tensions they endure (Clandinin, Murphy, Huber, & Orr, 2009).
Integrating theories and methods from organizational culture and narrative inquiry, my research explores the experiences of athletes within the culture of high performance figure skating. I recruited seven former figure skaters (four female and three male) who had competed at a Senior Competitive level in Canada. The research followed three guiding questions:
• What tensions do former figure skaters identify in relation to their experience as high-performance figure skaters?
• How are these tensions related to the organizational culture of figure skating?
• How do participants reflect on these tensions over time?
Using artifacts to elicit conversations and reflections, I completed three to four interviews with each participant. I present their stories in a variety of narrative formats to better capture the feel of the interviews and their lived experiences. The figure skaters experienced multiple tensions across their careers as they embraced the lifestyle of a skater and during transitions away from the sport. Tensions included monitoring bodies, an overriding emphasis on competitions and winning, and the importance of music, choreography, and appearance in their overall performance as elite figure skaters. While many tensions were taken-for-granted as being a high-performance athlete, once removed from the sport, participants became aware of the sacrifices they had made and how some aspects of the culture had influenced their mental health and well-being.
A critical analysis of the normalized aspects of the sport revealed an emphasis on performance deeply embedded across all levels of figure skating’s organizational culture (Schein, 2010). The dissertation highlights how participants became part of the problematic culture, accepting its localized terms and conditions which in turn served to reinforce and re-create the culture’s dominant values and norms (Alvesson, 2013; Smircich, 1983).

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