A exploration of care and touch in gymnastics

Julia Chan, Rhiannon Lord, Chloe Maclean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


Coaches play a key role in individuals’ leisure activities. They are central to sustained and good quality sport participation. Coaching is also leisure activity for many (voluntary) coaches. However, in sports that require touch as a means of developing safe and skilled practice, such as gymnastics, coaches are becoming increasingly anxious due to culturally desensitised and unrealistic policy (e.g., ‘no touch zones’), and contradictory messages from governing bodies and safeguarding courses. This is made worse by contemporary moral panic around child abuse in sport. Since the conclusion of the largest abuse case in gymnastics to date - the conviction of former USA Gymnastics’ Team Doctor, Larry Nassar - there has been little research on gymnastics coaches’ views on contemporary safeguarding legislation, policy and practice. Therefore, using a Foucauldian lens, the aim of this research was to form an understanding of how gymnastics coaches experience issues of care and touch in their practice. Six focus groups were conducted with male and female gymnastics coaches of various ages, experience and disciplines. Using a thematic analysis, five themes were identified - gender differences in practice, safeguarding education, touch-based practice, discipline differences, and moral panic of child abuse in sport. Findings suggest coaches felt increasingly anxious about touch-based practice. They didn’t feel well equipped to understand and implement procedures and policies. Male coaches felt increasingly vulnerable to false allegations. Additionally, male and female coaches had varied opinions on what was considered appropriate practice. In sum, more focus on safeguarding policies is needed to ensure coaches feel confident to deliver gymnastics sessions. This must include additional care for male coaches where there is a fear of false allegation. Gymnastics needs a sustainable coaching workforce that operates in a safe leisure space. Future research should explore safeguarding education courses and policy, to understand how delivery and context could be improved, to better support coaches.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes
EventLeisure Studies Association Annual Conference 2019: Changing Lives through Leisure - Abertay University, Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jul 201911 Jul 2019
http://leisurestudies.org/events/lsa-annual-conference-2019/ (Conference website.)


ConferenceLeisure Studies Association Annual Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleLSA Annual Conference 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Care
  • Touch
  • Gymnastics
  • Coaching


Dive into the research topics of 'A exploration of care and touch in gymnastics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this