• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Coaches can provide healthy message to female athletes

      September 17, 2012

      The fall season marks the beginning of cross-country competition for high school athletes. A particular subset of this population, namely female runners, have been consistently identified as an at-risk population for disordered eating.


      Extensive research over the last two decades has linked pathogenic weight control techniques to the effects of sports pressures. Sports pressures, defined as comments or references made to an athlete’s body weight by coaches and/or teammates, create body-focused competitive environments and contribute significantly to an athlete’s dissatisfaction with appearance.


      For example, coaches who wrongly assume there is a relationship between leaner body size and improved performance, reveal uniform sizes of teammates to the entire team, or teach unhealthy methods of rapid weight loss, contribute to an athlete’s perception that they must meet a sport-specific ideal body shape and weight.


      Unlike non-athletes, female athletes who display sub-clinical disordered eating within body-focused sports environments demonstrate remission of such symptoms in the absence of that environment. Moreover, studies also show that focusing on performance, rather than the body, is less likely to produce body dissatisfaction among female athletes.


      High school coaches are in a unique position to assist young female athletes with developing healthy perceptions of body image. By dispelling beliefs that weight loss is linked to improved performance and instead teach proper nutrition and prioritize psychological and physical health, coaches can generate positive messages within the sporting environment.


      As coaches create a healthy environment and validate the ill-effects of caloric restriction on athletic performance, it can reduce or prevent the contagion effects of restrictive eating patterns. In other words, because athletes are so motivated to lose weight to enhance sports performance, rather than simply to look better, a shift in emphasis on training principles for peak performance and less efforts by coaches to teach sport-specific pressures and ideals of body weight is paramount for reducing body dissatisfaction.


      As coaches construct performance-based models of training and supportive interventions for enhancing running performance, athletes are less inclined to engage in excessive worry about weight management because their performances improve as a result of training.

      Performance enhancement also is influenced by the degree to which coaches create a safe environment for effective communication. Environments conducive to candid disclosure by athletes about self-doubt reduce body dissatisfaction, because flawed ideas associated with body weight and performance can be reframed into healthy perspectives based on scientific principles, individual differences and performance outcomes.


      Although coaches can easily influence the immediate sporting setting, athletes also face scrutiny outside the immediate team context within the competitive sporting environment at large. In this sense, coaches are likely to meet resistance without broader programmatic and larger systemic changes in policies that embody physical health and wellness in the pursuit of athletic excellence.


      Melissa Perkins-Banas writes a twice-monthy running column. Reach her at dr.mel@sbcglobal.net

      Read more: Coaches can provide healthy message to female athletes - Norwich, CT - The Bulletin http://www.norwichbulletin.com/sports/x1803416854/Coaches-can-provide-healthy-message-to-female-athletes#ixzz26kQPpNcD