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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Measuring up : status and stigma within a special olympic floor hockey team Zyla, Jo-Ann


The purpose of this thesis was to discover the Special Olympic floor hockey athletes' understanding of the coaches', teams' and players' goals, priorities and expectations. Traditionally, the viewpoint of the mentally retarded has been represented by professionals and parents on the "outside". The emphasis on the athletes' perspective focused on the "insider" point of view. The rationale was that the results might be beneficial in improving the leadership qualities of the B.C. Special Olympics floor hockey coach and in improving athlete/coach relationships, with the potential result of maximizing the personal growth, development and performance potential of athletes. The question posed was: do the coaches and athletes each have a theory of behaviour that is bound and defined by their respective cultures (the dominant culture and mental retardation subculture). The subjects consisted of approximately thirty members of a Special Olympic floor hockey team ranging in age from nineteen to forty six years. Four members were female and twenty six were male. They were studied ethnographically utilizing the techniques of participant observation and informal interview in varied settings. The study was conducted from early January through mid April, 1988, and consisted of three phases: orientation to establish rapport and to allow time to blend into the sport setting; observation/conversation and the more focused phase consisting of informal directed interviews. Data elicited revealed themes related to socialisation, stigma and sport culture. Socialisation and the dominant culture examined primary and secondary socialisation, social stock of knowledge and relevance structures. Impression management, front and back stage performances are strategies employed by the mentally retarded to manage tension. Sport culture is an avenue for the athletes to learn about the social stock of knowledge and the relevance structures of the dominant culture. Dealing with stigma is central in the daily lives of the mentally retarded and is a constant challenge because it is dependent on the interpretations of others...intersubjective reality. Passing and covering are two of the coping strategies utilized by the mentally retarded. Myths concerning the athletes emerged gradually, revealing that coaches and athletes each have a theory of behaviour that is bound and defined by their respective cultures. Of significance to Special Olympics is the value of uncovering and understanding dominant cultural assumptions and biases in the context of interacting with a subculture such as the Special Olympic athletes, potentially resulting in more effective athlete/coach interaction.

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