A Qualitative Exploration of Collegiate Student-Athletes’ Constructions of Health
Keywords:Student-athlete, health, sport, student health, Constructions of health
Collegiate student athletes are faced with unique challenges as they are often forced to negotiate between demanding social, athletic, and academic roles. These competing priorities can put student athletes at greater risk for experiencing physical and psychological health problems than their non-athlete peers. To better understand the underlying behaviours and lifestyle factors leading to these negative outcomes, we must consider how they think about health. The purpose of this study was to examine how student athletes conceptualize health in the Canadian context, and to examine how they formulate these understandings. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 actively-competing collegiate student athletes from nine varsity sports at two academic institutions, and data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Participants constructed health holistically, with particular emphasis on physical and mental domains over social well-being. The quality of one’s physical health was equated in many ways with athletic capacity, as was the quality of mental health to a lesser degree. Participants discussed a variety of sources from which they drew health ideas, but sport experiences were commonly cited as particularly significant and formative. Findings can inform future research into health conceptualizations of other university student populations, and may inform further inquiry into how health ideas manifest into behaviour. Recommendations are provided for collegiate sport administrators including placing heavier emphasis on mental health resources, and improving support while athletes are acclimating to the demanding lifestyle of varsity sport.
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