Women's participation motivation in rugby, cricket and netball
: body satisfaction and self-identity

  • Katrina Marie Russell

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The main reasons behind women's participation in sport have been identified as team membership, cooperation and friendship. This is seen in contrast to competition, status and possible career opportunities found in relation to men's participation in sport. Research also suggests that participation in physical activity and sport increases women's sense of well- being and acceptance of body size and shape.

    This thesis set out to explore the sporting experiences of women within rugby, cricket and netball. The first aim of the research was to investigate the participation motivation of women within three sports that differ in their levels of acceptability and required physical contact. The second and third aims were to examine how that participation might affect the development of self-esteem and body satisfaction. The fmal aim of the thesis addressed the issue of sporting identity development through exploring how participants in physical/non-physical, 'feminine'/'masculine' sports reflect on their sporting experiences. In addition the thesis considered how distinct parts of sporting participation such as clothing, team dynamics, physical contact and perceptions of sexuality synthesise to form the sporting identity of women rugby players, cricketers and netballers.

    The research was based on Constructivist/Interpretivist principles and combined both quantitative and qualitative methods. Initially, three questionnaires were used to assess participation motives (Participation Motivation Questionnaire), body image (Multi dimensional Body Self-Relations Questionnaire) and self-esteem (Multidimensional Self-Esteem Inventory). The questionnaires were sent to rugby players, cricketers and netballers through their organising bodies. Following the questionnaire stage of the thesis, 30 interviews were conducted to further explore the relationship between participation in sport, perceptions of femininity and the function the body took in developing body satisfaction. Key to the investigation was how sport participation impacted on identity development and the strategies used to maintain that image. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse the interview accounts, focusing on the meanings given to sport by the individuals themselves. Social constructionism was used as a framework for interpreting the data. This produced a rich account of sporting experience highlighting how body satisfaction and perceptions of femininity are constructed and reconstructed by sportswomen.

    Findings from the questionnaires indicated that all sports rated team membership as the most important reason to participate in sport. Key findings demonstrated that satisfaction with physical appearance was strongly related to body areas satisfaction and global self-esteem for all sports. There was also no difference between sports on perceptions of physical attractiveness and all sports demonstrated significant relationships between satisfaction with physical appearance and body functioning. Following Stage One of the research process an interview schedule was developed that combined the key findings from each questionnaire and questions raised from the literature. The main findings from Stage Two highlighted how important sport is to these women, indicating a variety of techniques used to sustain an athletic image. It was also found that perceptions of femininity focused on the association of physical activity and sexuality. The assumption being that regardless of sport choice women were perceived as lesbian. Other key findings highlighted the transiency of body satisfaction. This refers to increases in body satisfaction through playing sport not being sustained once the athlete has transferred herself to a social context. Other findings relate to the use of the body in sport and the enjoyment of overpowering an opponent. School experiences of sport are identified as key to the development of gender stereotypes and why being regarded as a 'sporty' person is so important.

    The research on which this thesis is based suggests that sport comes to play an integral part in these women's lives and an activity that guided overall identity development. The thesis also highlights the transiency of body satisfaction and the inevitability of the lesbian stereotype due to participation in sport. The social constructionist interpretation of the data suggests how the shared vocabularies of body idioms that individuals embrace and use to judge other people determine the way in which we value physical behaviours and define physical attractiveness. The respondents demonstrated that regardless of prejudice and poor funding they still want to and enjoy the experience of sport participation. Potential research opportunities are also identified.
    Date of Award2002
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SponsorsRugby Football Union for Women
    SupervisorGayle Letherby (Supervisor)


    • female athletes
    • sporting identity
    • netball
    • cricket
    • rugby

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