Examining the construction of identity among high performance male and female athletes using photography

Tracey J. Devonport, Kath Leflay, Katrina Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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This study, adopting a feminist perspective explored two research questions: (1) how do male and female athletes perform an athletic identity through photographic self-representation, and (2) what are the messages they look to convey, as role models, through these images? Eighteen culturally diverse high-performance athletes (12 female, 6 male; mean age = 20.56 years, SD = 2.83) representing a range of sports took part. Following an individual photo session with autonomy over image capture, participants selected their favoured image and provided a caption symbolising the message they wished to convey to others. Participants were then interviewed to obtain their thoughts, feelings and stories with regards image capture and selection. Analysis of photographic data revealed a tendency for participants to select full body action shots, located in the field of play and wearing sports clothing. Captions emphasised hard work, psychological assets, technical precision and encouraged sports participation. Interview data were organised under two broad themes aligned with the research questions; ‘performing an athletic identity’ and ‘intended messages’. Participants typically wanted to appear in action shots, emphasising good technique, displaying a sporting physique and in relevant uniforms. Intended messages reflected how to be a good role model and comprised of ideals of hard work and giving sport a go. Findings suggest that whilst athletes sought to champion their sport and the physical and psychological qualities that participation produces, gendered performances were also evident in production and interpretation of many images, thus highlighting the pervasive nature of gendered sporting participation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-739
Number of pages20
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number5
Early online date16 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Athletic-identity
  • gender performance
  • role-model
  • physicality
  • psychological strength

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