A qualitative exploratory study of the experiences of post-collegiate women’s wrestlers in the United States Open Access

Rigert, Payton (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/2227mq83k?locale=en


Background: Sports participation for women continues to increase. One of the fastest-growing sports, both in high school and college, is women’s wrestling. In 2020, Collegiate women’s wrestling received NCAA Emerging Sport Status after approval from Division 2, Division 3 and Division 1 programs. With 59 collegiate varsity programs already in place and more being added every day, the research on women who wrestle needs to be reflected in this growth ("List of Colleges with Women’s Wrestling Programs," 2020) This study explores the perceptions of women college wrestlers and the impact of the sport on their post-collegiate transition. The intersection of college sport’s career, weight management, gender, and wrestling has yet to be studied, even though women who fit into all these categories may be at a greater risk for decreased mobility, decreased body-image satisfaction, and lack of preparedness entering the workforce.


Methods: This is a qualitative study conducted in 2020. Twenty participants were recruited for 30-to-60-minute semi-structured interviews from over 15 different Universities from across the US and one Canadian institution. Code-based analysis was conducted, as well as cross comparison of codes to generate themes.


Results: Three main themes emerged from the data: identity, body image, and intrinsic motivation. The theme of identity encompassed how the participant’s experiences as a women wrestler demonstrated how important sports participation is tied to their self-perception and often social support. Body image encompassed how participants visualized or disused their bodies post-college. Intrinsic motivation encapsulated the internal drive that powered participant’s actions and willingness to complete tasks post-college wrestling career.


Conclusion: The findings from this study support that the extensive demands of sport’s careers often lead to limited ability to explore identity, which can make the transition to post-college life difficult. This may have led to careers and continued participation in the wrestling community with the majority of participants still involved (n=15, 75%). Weight gain after the participants careers ended lead to a negative self-perception of body image. Social support played a large role in continued exercise and positive behaviors.

Table of Contents

Chapter I: Introduction 9

Problem Statement 10

Purpose Statement of this Qualitative Study 11

Research Questions 11

Chapter II: Review of the Literature 13

Women in Sports 13

Gender 14

Benefits of Participating in Collegiate Sports 15

Wrestling Context 16

Weight Management 18

Readiness for after Sports 19

Theory-Based Approach for Understanding the Experiences of Post- collegiate Women’s Wrestlers 20

Justification for this thesis project 22

Chapter III: Student Contributions 23

Methods 23

Data Collection 25

Data Analyses 25

Chapter IV Journal Article 28

Introduction 29

Methods 37

Data Collection 38

Data Coding and Analysis 39

Ethics 41

Results 41

Discussion 50

Future Research 52

Limitations 53

Conclusion 53

Disclosure statement 55

Funding 55

Chapter V: Public Health Implications 56

Call for Women’s Wrestling and Post-College Athlete Research 56

Implications for Coaching Women’s Wrestling 56

Future Research 58

Conclusion 58

References 61

Appendix 66

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