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Growing up in elite sport represents a challenging project. Young athletes must negotiate a career-defining transitional period while in the midst of adolescence. In this context, notably, the growth process can lead to health problems such as overloading and injuries. In this article, we investigate how adolescent elite athletes cope with problematic growth experiences. Taking a Bourdieusian perspective, we consider coping to be a socioculturally-located practice. Drawing on qualitative interviews and participant observation in German elite sport, our conversational analysis reveals five typical coping strategies among young athletes: (a) distancing, (b) rationalization, (c) active agency, (d) self-disciplining, and (e) responsibility transfer. We reflect on the health-compromising side effects of these strategies as well as the implications for the sporting community’s handling of growth problems.
Schubring is with the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science; University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. Thiel is with the Institute of Sports Science, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.