Exploring coaches understanding of body image and weight inclusivity in youth sport: Implications for sport coach development and training


Coaches are tasked with creating sport environments that facilitate the positive development of athletes. However, coaches are also described as portraying negative or maladaptive attitudes about athletes’ body shapes, weights, and performances. These attitudes lead to appearance-focused sport environments that discriminate against people in heavier bodies and contribute to poor sport experiences and dropout. A body image training program would benefit coaches, however, how coaches conceptualize body image and weight inclusivity, as well as their previous learning attempts on the topics, are not known. The current study sought to (1) explore how sport coaches conceptualize body image and weight inclusivity, (2) identify knowledge generation and learning on these topics, and (3) describe strategies to facilitate coach development on these topics. Six (50% women) coaches from across Canada were recruited to participate in 90-minute discussions. Data were collected and analyzed using a constructivist paradigm and thematic analyses. Coaches demonstrated limited understanding of weight inclusivity yet discussed some knowledge of body image. Despite the known relationship between body image and sport, most coaches could not recall any explicit attempts to create more weight and body-inclusive and positive body image sport environments. Furthermore, no training programs on these topics have been undertaken but coaches stressed a need for a brief, cost effective program to balance messages about the importance and value of weight inclusivity and body image in youth sport. Coaches also suggested practical strategies and guidelines for addressing these foundational topics.