Young Female Elite Athletes in a Meritocracy

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Stephanie Y. M. Jensen
Centre for Youth Studies, Copenhagen


Danish society has evolved into a meritocracy in the 21st century. Each individual is responsible for his or her own success in life. Young people, especially, face a mounting pressure on all sides to constantly perform their best in every area of life. The result of this is young people suffering from stress at an early age. In particular young girls appear to be more perfectionistic, addicted to control, success driven, and socially oriented, compared to young boys. Alongside increased social pressures, youth sport has become more professionalized and it requires a lot of dedication if you want to be an elite athlete, while at the same time continuing to be committed to school. The purpose of this article is to examine the challenges of combining elite sport, school and social life outside sport in the daily life of a young female elite athlete. In addition, this article examines how we can better understand these challenges based on the tendencies towards competition and success we face in the 21st century. Five young female elite athletes aged 15-17 (representing soccer, handball and swimming) have been interviewed on topics about school, elite sports, experiences of well-being, social relations, and considerations about the future. The main results of the article show that (1) young female elite athletes experience identity diffusion across life arenas; (2) they struggle to relate to social life outside of elite sports; (3) that dedication and an internalized demand for perfection as fundamental parts of the female athletes’ mindset lead to a constant self-monitoring resulting in them pushing themselves to the limit – and beyond it; and (4) that school is the life arena that means the most to the female athlete’s future and career outside sports.


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STEPHANIE Y. M. JENSEN graduated from the Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Denmark, in 2016 with a master’s degree in Sport Science and Psychology. Stephanie now works as a project manager at Center for Youth Studies on the research project ”Good sports environments for young female athletes” in cooperation with DIF (Danish Sports Association) and 10 sports federations. Stephanie’s primary research interests are in the field of youth sports.

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