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What can Foucault tell us about Fun in Sport? A Foucauldian Critical Examination of the Discursive Production and Deployment of Fun within Varsity Coaching Contexts Open Access


Other title
Varsity Coaching
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Avner, Zoe
Supervisor and department
Markula-Denison, Pirkko (Physical Education and Recreation) and Denison, James (Physical Education and Recreation)
Examining committee member and department
Cassidy, Tania (School of Physical Education, University of Otago, NZ)
Markula-Denison, Pirkko (Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta)
Taylor, Chloe (Women's and Gender Studies, University of Alberta)
Spencer-Cavaliere, Nancy (Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta)
Denison, James (Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta)
Physical Education and Recreation

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Fun is a concept of growing importance in sport and in sport coaching research (e.g., Bigelow et al. 2001; Mastrich, 2002; Small, 2002; Smoll et al., 1988; Thompson, 1997; 2003). Fun, and especially fun in sport, is generally understood not only as being unproblematic but also as being inherently desirable. This doctoral research project challenges this dominant positive understanding of fun through a critical examination of the role of fun within varsity sporting contexts. Unlike most of the sport psychology and positive coaching researchers on this topic (e.g., Allen, 2003; Bigelow et al., 2001; McCarthy & Jones, 2007), I did not seek to gain a better understanding of what fun is, or the ‘essence’ of fun: a concept generally defined as a positive state associated with emotions such as enjoyment. Rather, I sought to understand what fun does: to problematize its strategic deployment and effects as a political technology within the power relations of varsity sport. I drew on the work of French poststructuralist philosopher Michel Foucault and his concept of power/knowledge (1978) to address my dissertation’s aim and focus on how coaches understand fun and articulate their training practices related to fun within varsity coaching contexts. I first conducted a Foucauldian discourse analysis of two key coaching websites and their endorsed programs: the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) found on the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) website, and the LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development model) found on the Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) website. In addition, I conducted 10 semi-structured individual interviews with varsity coaches at a Canadian university. My results showed that the humanistic concept of fun is currently strategically deployed to naturalize the unproblematic reproduction of dominant scientific, competitive, and individualizing discourses. The current uses of fun support the reproduction of unbalanced power relations within varsity sporting contexts by enabling coaches’ authority over athletes’ training and competing. As a result, current dominant ‘effective’ coaching practices (e.g., periodization) and their problematic disciplinary and normalizing effects (e.g., athlete docility) are reified. Furthermore, other ways of knowing and practicing sport coaching and training (e.g., flow) are marginalized. Foucault (1983) claimed that all social practices are dangerous and need to be problematized. My dissertation’s results show that fun needs to be continuously interrogated for its problematic disciplinary and normalizing effects and re-contextualized within the present power/knowledge nexus of varsity sport. Furthermore, critical coaching frameworks, which re-politicize all coaching knowledge and practices, need to be developed and integrated within formal coach education programs in order for fun to support the development of more innovative, ethical, and effective coaching and sporting practices within varsity sporting contexts.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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