South African female swimmers have become a frequent feature in online media articles since zero female swimmers managed to qualify for the 2015 FINA World Championships and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Despite this being a valuable area to focus on, majority of the online articles reviewed have neglected to provide South African female swimmers with the opportunity to share their experiences, perceptions and personal interpretations on being a female swimmer in South Africa. As such, this research study explored the lived experiences of South African female student-athlete swimmers who are in the process of competing at an elite level.
A qualitative research approach was utilised in this study, with interpretative phenomenological approach as its paradigmatic point of departure. One in-depth semi-structured interview was conducted with each of the eight South African female student-athlete swimmers from a swimming club located within a Tshwane-based university. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to interpret the transcripts. Six main themes surfaced; the context, the body, the social and relational, the decision, career, and staying afloat. Along with this, numerous corresponding subthemes and two integrated themes (the emotional self and ways of thinking) also emerged from analysis. These themes highlighted the complexity of these participants’ lives as female student-athletes as well as South African female swimmers. These findings can assist coaches, parents, and other relevant role players to gain an enriched understanding of these participants’ experiences and needs so that they may better support and lead this population group; in doing so, they may be better equipped to reach their full potential.