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Exploring leadership and professional practice in sport and recreation organisations

Title: ‘Lines of Flight or Tethered Wings’? A Deleuzian Analysis of Women-only Adventure Skills Courses in the United Kingdom  

Research Partner Organizsation: Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre.   

DSER Staff: Dr Zoë Avner, Dr Emma Boocock, and Dr Linda Allin   

Despite a marked growth in Women and Girls participation in adventure sport, women continue to report barriers to participation. These barriers range from  inter-personal such as(e.g., lack of partners or sexist disempowering partnerships), intra-personal such as (fear or limiting self-perceptions of knowledge and ability), structural such as (lack of time, money, or equipment related knowledge), and family constraints. 

In light of these recognised enduring issues, disparities, and inequalities, efforts have been initiated by adventure sport scholars,  educators and professionals, outdoor centres, and local and national governing bodies to address the gender and diversity imbalance.   

Women-only courses, as one such solution, were designed to address some of the more obvious, but also the more subtle and less visible barriers that women face in the outdoor environment. There is some evidence to support the value of women-only environments in the outdoors in terms of empowerment and physicality, with further evidence of interest in women specific environments through high attendances at recent women focused United Kingdom based events (for example, Women in Adventure Sport Conference, Women’s Climbing Symposium). However, as some research has also shown, single-gender courses can be controversial and have problematic unintended consequences. 

This project extends critical research into the impact of strategies developed in response to current problematic trends in the outdoor participation and leadership sectors. It does so by exploring participants’ experiences on women-only skills courses at a UK based National Outdoor Training Centre and how adventure sport instructors seek to deliver these learning opportunities. A feminist Deleuzian lens was used to consider the impact of these courses on participants’ sense of self, their understanding of ‘effective’ adventure sporting practices, and their outdoor aspirations. Glenmore Lodge is drawing upon the project findings to refine and enhance the delivery of gender and diversity responsive skill development courses as well as instructor preparation, support, and career development practices.   

Find out more:

Allin, L. (2018). Women, physicality and the outdoors: A story of strength and fragility in a kayaking identity. In T. Gray & D. Mitten (Eds.)., The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Outdoor Learning (pp. 503-511). London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Beames, S., Humberstone, B., & Allin, L. (2017). Adventure revisited: critically examining the concept of adventure and its relations with contemporary outdoor education and learning. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 17(4), 275-279. 

Wilkinson, S., & Penney, D. (2016). The involvement of external agencies in extra-curricular physical education: reinforcing or challenging gender and ability inequities?. Sport, Education and Society, 21(5), 741-758. 


Project Title: Examining the social, relational and emotional dimensions of leadership and professional practice in sport organisations.  

DSER Staff: Professor Paul Potrac, Dr. Zoë Avner, Dr. Edward Hall, Dr. John Hayton, Dr. Adam Nichol, Karen Johns, Mark McCutcheon, Callum Morgan (PhD student), Mark Bertram (PhD Student), Ryan Thomas (PhD Student), and Mark Clarkson (PhD student).  

Collaborators: The Football Association’s Referee Department, Sunderland Foundation of Light, Newcastle United F.C., and Newcastle Falcons.  

Building on recent critiques of the overly functional, reductionist, and unproblematic representations of leadership and professional practice in sports organisations, this project critically charts the social, emotional and relational complexity of athletes’, coaches’, managers’ and officials’ working relationships and interactions.   

Using dramaturgical, symbolic interactionist, relational, and post-structural theorising, the principal focus of this project is on the development and application of the participants’ ‘political astuteness’. This includes how they: 

  • seek to control the impression of the self that they give to various stakeholders, 
  • productively and ethically influence others, 
  • deal with faux-pas and performance disruptions, 
  • work with others as members of a cohesively functioning performance team
  • engage in the intra and interpersonal management of emotions.   

In addition to advancing our theoretical and empirical knowledge of sports work, this project also supports the development of reality-grounded and evidenced-based CPD events that better reflect sports workers as both targets and tacticians of social influence.  

Find out more:

Avner, Z., Denison, J., Jones, L., Boocock, E., & Hall, E. T. (in press). Beat the Game: a Foucauldian exploration of coaching differently in an elite rugby academy. Sport, Education and Society, 1-16. 

Nichol, A., Hayes, P., Boocock, E., Vickery, W., Potrac, P., & Hall, E. (in press). Athletes as site of normative intersectionality: Critically exploring the ontology of influence in sport coaching. Sociology of Sport Journal. 

O’Gorman, J., Partington, M., Nelson, L., & Potrac, P. (in press). Translation, intensification and fabrication: Professional football academy coaches’ enactment of the Elite Player Performance Plan. Sport, Education and Society. 

Scott, A., & Malcolm, D. (2015). ‘Involved in every step’: how working practices shape the influence of physiotherapists in elite sport. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 7(4), 539-556 

Wilkinson, S., Penney, D., Allin, L., & Potrac, P. (in press). The enactment of setting policy in secondary school physical education. Sport, Education and Society. 

Zheng, J., Lau, P. W. C., Chen, S., Dickson, G., De Bosscher, V., & Peng, Q. (2019). Interorganisational conflict between national and provincial sport organisations within China’s elite sport system: Perspectives from national organisations. Sport management review, 22(5), 667-681. 


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