Mainstream discourse on sport and young people brings positive aspects, such as enjoyment, development and health promotion to the fore. Sport is also presumed to be secure. Drawing on a study of leadership culture within Swedish elite gymnastics, the paper examines how coaches and gymnasts approach issues such as food and diet, weight and weight control, injuries and pain, sport relationships (coach-gymnast, coach-gymnast-parents, coach-sport association, etcetera), knowledge and competence, as well as the relationship between leadership culture and policy documents such as the National guidelines for elite gymnastics and the UN convention on the rights of the child. The analysis brings the gendering practices of the coaches – often an adult man - to the fore and indicates that girls and young women are subjected to more control, verbal abuse, and stricter demands on both obedience and diet than boys and young men. Boys and young men seem to be treated more democratically and receive more positive feedback and social support. These results are discussed in relation to the intersection of age and gender inequality, as well as constructions of both gender and the child, for example, how the treatment of girls and young women is associated with a well-established notion that female gymnasts need a child-like body to be able to perform at the elite level. Furthermore, prevailing conceptions of the optimal body of a successful gymnast is discussed, particularly in the light of the pubertal development of girl's' and boys' bodies.
12th European Sociological Association conference, Prague 25-28th of August 2015.