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Michel Foucault’s Influence on Knowledge and Power in Sports Coaching

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This assignment will be looking into and written about the theorist Michael Foucault and to understand the importance and influence he had on knowledge and power in sports coaching. This assignment will also reflect on knowledge and power and how his theories influenced gender/feminism in sports coaching and also how his theories helped with the development of coach-athlete and reflecting on the importance of impact of knowledge and power mentally and how it can affect women especially in sport.

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist and literacy critic. Foucault’s theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge. He did not write about sport as such, but it does put into perspective of what his theories concluded, whereby his focus on the body of domination and control makes his work relevant for coach and athlete development.

Power and Knowledge

Michel Foucault describes power as “If power were never anything by repressive, if it never did anything but say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power so good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it produces and traverse’s things, it induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, produces discourses. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than a negative instance whose focus is repression”. By this, he means that ‘power’ is at its most powerful when it is least exploited. It helps us to understand that ‘power’ does not only work through denying, but there are other ways being and forms of pleasure.

Power, Foucault and Coach – Athlete Relationship

Foucault defined power as a relationship and this means that the actions of some help to guide or direct “the possible field of action of others”. From this, he was not regarding power as operating in some ‘top – down’ manner but as a sequence of relations in which an individual interacts with others. Regarding the ‘top – down’ manner, Foucault is suggesting that a coach effectively dictates to the athlete without negotiation in a hierarchal manner as opposed to the sequence of relations where the athlete and coach both support each other equally. To put Foucault’s understandings into perspective and understanding how power effects coaching, Markula and Pringle (2006) used the following example to give a good understanding of what a coach – athlete is and how it works: “A coach and an athlete exist within a specific power relation, in that the coach typically to guide the athlete’s conduct or performance. Although the coach can develop strategies to direct the actions of the athlete, such as by keeping the athlete on the bench, the athlete is still relatively ‘dree’ to decide his or her response and ultimately whether he or she will continue to be coached. The actions of the athlete can also reciprocally influence the actions of the coach. If the athlete, for example, tells the coach that he or she is thinking of quitting, this might induce a change in the coach’s future actions. Thus, although the coach and athlete’s relationship of power may be unbalanced, they can still be viewed as existing within a specific power relation”.

The disciplinary techniques Foucault analysed, link to the systems and tactics used to train and produce athletes. From this, it is showing that Foucault analysed how coaches use different systems and tactics to coach their athletes. The sport sciences have been a key element to disciplinary power in sport as for example, Shogan (1999) discussed how Foucault’s descriptions of the techniques of disciplinary power read like a ‘how to’ manual for coaches. This explained the factor of how coaching can work as a practice to help guide and discipline modern – day athletes. This type of power, which is the focus of control and discipline of bodies, was used in an exercise, which by Foucault (1979) in otherwise known as “by means of surveillance”.

Foucault’s (1972) description of disciplinary power explained by Markula and Pringle (2006), state that the disciplinary of power is almost perfectly parallel and this is the way in that coaches try to control and regulate their athletes. Coaches do this by having a structured plan in order to get the best out of their athlete, and use different training activities, rigid training schedules and practices of observation and judgment. As for coaches, this may have been practiced many times, for the better and to help not only a coach coaching style, but the development of the athlete. Shogan (1999) better explained modern discipline that is “both an exercise of control and a subject matter”.

Power, Foucault and Gender

Foucault’s writings have been massively influential of many different types of people, personalities and characteristics, but among feminist’s theorists, they have widely critiqued and developed his work. Feminists have followed Foucault’s work extensively and engaged with his theories, but it seemed like Foucault never showed that much attention in feminism or even gender issues. For a lot of people, it would seem that it’s all very biased towards females and would cause gender issues, and also the way Foucault shows power prejudice by focusing on the ways it invests on the body, but inquiringly it’s gender – neutral. This has been widely criticised because it fails to address the importance of gender in the play of power. He stands accused of “glossing over gender configurations of power”; of “neglecting to examine the gendered character of many disciplinary techniques” and of “treating the body throughout as if it were one, as if the bodily experiences of men and women did not differ and as if men and women bore the same relationships to the characteristic institutions of modern life.” From these quotes, it seems as though he does not differentiate between genders to search how or why power operates to invest, train and produce bodies that are gendered.

According to Bartky (1998), he appears to be “blind”. This has extended to the point where that gender decides the techniques and degrees of discipline applied on the body. Bartky (1998) goes onto say and asks, “Where is the account of the disciplinary practices that engender the ‘docile bodies’ of women, bodies more docile than the bodies of men?” This has the implication that there is no strong evidence suggesting that a woman is any less capable of showing the same effective coaching strategies as a man. From a sports coaching context, Bartky’s study is a valuable way to empower female coaches to believe that they have the same capabilities as their male counterparts, it provides an equal outlook for all sports coaches internationally, and has no boundary of ability. She also says “Women, like men, are subject to many of the same disciplinary practices Foucault describes. But he is blind to those disciplines that produce a modality of embodiment that is peculiarly feminine.” This suggests that although a study being gender-neutral has empowerment qualities, it fails to distinguish between qualities that make men and women biologically and physically different.

From a sports coaching context, this example shows that it is clear that Foucault’s study focuses predominantly on women; as it is most commonly seen that men coach women, but not vice versa due to the “dominance” portrayed in men. Therefore, it could be seen as Foucault using his power on feminist beliefs to influence equality as though women and men are one and entirely equal rather than separate and different but still equal.

Discourse and Knowledge

Without knowledge, there is no power and this is due to the fact that coaches without any sporting knowledge of football for example, if a coach does not have any knowledge then he/she does not have any power to control the players. Knowledge is an important aspect that comes before power. Knowledge being linked to power, does not only assume the authority of ‘the truth’ but has the power to make itself true. This is saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and for a coach having that knowledge has a lot of power because of his knowledge and therefore makes it true. Once all the knowledge has been applied, has the effects on coaches and then ‘becomes true’.

Martini (2015) states that “Knowledge, once used to regulate others, entails constraint, regulation, and the disciplining of practice”. To follow on from this, Foucault (1977) states that “there is no power relation without the correlative field of knowledge, nor any know that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time, power relations”. Near the end of Foucault’s life, he described the aim of his work was to try and uncover how human beings develop knowledge about themselves. To consider this for coaches and even athletes that are still learning, Foucault regarded knowledge as discourse and therefore ideological.

Ideology

In Foucault’s work, ‘discourse’ had a lot to do with knowledge and was an important link and concept to do with knowledge. The term ‘discourse’ has a similar meaning to the Marxist-derived term ‘ideology’. Ideologies are general and abstract. They have to be as they are applied in a large variety of everyday situations. For example, “racist ideologies embody how we think about them in general”. From this, individual group members may ‘apply’ these general opinions in concrete situations, and hence in concrete discourses. To put this into perspective, Teun A. van Dijk (2013) goes onto say “there may be a wide gap between the abstract, general ideologies on the one hand, and how people produce and understand discourse or engage in other social practices on the other hand”.

Discourse

According to Pringle (2007), “discourse can be simply understood as referring to a relatively consistent set of ideas that people use to navigate social life and make sense of their experiences”. To put this into context, discourse can only be described as “unwritten rules” which basically means that it can help to and guide social practices, produce and understood (. Discourse is a big factor when it comes to sport, there are some benefits to discourses as for example, sport can help build character or sport participation is good for health. Pringle also went onto say that these factors can go often unchallenged, but there are examples against this and can also be known as ‘discursive truths’. In a reciprocal manner, this basically means that discourses can act to be indistinct and for some people, this is difficult to understand. For a better upstanding, “the discourse that produces the ‘truth’ that rugby is a man’s sport” and does not make it any better for females that might want to participate in rugby as discourse also “acts to prevent recognition that females might enjoy and benefit from rugby participation”.

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Michel Foucault’s Influence on Knowledge and Power in Sports Coaching. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/michael-foucaults-influence-on-knowledge-and-power-in-sports-coaching/
“Michel Foucault’s Influence on Knowledge and Power in Sports Coaching.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/michael-foucaults-influence-on-knowledge-and-power-in-sports-coaching/
Michel Foucault’s Influence on Knowledge and Power in Sports Coaching. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/michael-foucaults-influence-on-knowledge-and-power-in-sports-coaching/> [Accessed 23 Jan. 2022].
Michel Foucault’s Influence on Knowledge and Power in Sports Coaching [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 26 [cited 2022 Jan 23]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/michael-foucaults-influence-on-knowledge-and-power-in-sports-coaching/
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