The development of talent in United States female Olympians: A phenomenological approach

Date of Completion

January 2002


Women's Studies|Education, Educational Psychology|Recreation




Women have been denied opportunities in sports based on gender, race, class and sexual orientation, but they have continued to seek chances to participate, train, excel and develop their talents to reach the Olympic level. It is important to understand that women's experiences in sports are not universal. Not all women faced the same challenges, nor did they have to overcome the same types or intensity of barriers. Little research in the area of the development of gifts and talents has focused on the development of female talent in sport. Models of talent development for successful women have inferred application to elite female athletes, but elite athletes have not been directly examined. The objective of this research was to contribute to an understanding of talent development in sport through a study of the experiences of US female Olympians. Van Manen's phenomenological design was used to understand these lived experiences. ^ Based on the lived experiences of the US female Olympians who participated in this study, a preliminary model of talent development emerged. The Olympic experiences have a significant influence on the development and manifestation of talent. Talent is manifested in these women through their bodies and is influenced by a gendered society, and by the impact of injury on development of talent. Lived space influences the development of talent for these athletes; access to both physical space and a more abstract personal space has impact on this development. Lived relationships influences the development of talent as these athletes experienced relationships with their sports, their families, and their coaches. An additional component to the development of talent in US female Olympians is how the experience of the Olympics impacts the development of their talent. The Olympics is understood as possibility, as opportunity, and then as experience. Further exploration of the time component of being an Olympian may assist in developing additional insights into the development of talent in US female Olympians. ^