Involvement in sport light. A longitudinal mixed methods study on changing patterns of sports participation [paper co-authored with B. Vanreusel, J. Lefevre1, & J. Scheerder]


There is a need for significant investment in the management of mental ill health, including through engendering physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. Research which examines participants’ subjective experiences of participation remains sparse, however. The present study conducted semi-structured interviews with 5 individuals, or ‘clients’ diagnosed with schizophrenia, along with two of their support workers. Participants’ embodied experiences of recreational aquatic physical activity were investigated. A Foucauldian theoretical framework guided analysis. Two central themes emerged from the data relating to clients’ perceived barriers to participation, and to the centrality of the body in clients’ experiences. Clients were cognizant of their status as ‘patients’ within discourses of both mental and physical health, and felt reliant upon health professionals for treatment, support and guidance. This made interactions with others difficult. Whereas clients description of their body outside the pool were often related to medication, body weight or poor health, descriptions of embodied experiences whilst swimming instead focused upon positive emotions, such as relaxation, peacefulness and self-awareness. Clients also felt empowered to make their own decisions within the pool environment, which was considered beyond the medical gaze. The potential to engender similarly empowering experiences amongst other similar groups is considerable.