With eyes for healthy youth sports

Figure skating has been a safe place for PhD student Moa Jederström ever since she was six years old. She now does research on physical and psychological abuse in Swedish youth sports.

Female figure skater on the ice. Moa Jederström.  Thor Balkhed

“I want to help us learn more about this. There is a lot of research about football, athletics injuries and young people in sport.  But there are blind spots. For example, it took a long time before people realised that lots of female football players get knee injuries. Today, there is a research-based intervention programme for preventing such injuries. But there isn’t anything of the same scale for preventing violence against young athletes”, says Moa Jederström.

Photo credit Thor Balkhed She emphasises that sport is a positive thing for children – it gives them long-term health benefits.

“Exercising or doing a sport is, in short, good. It reduces the risk of a range of different illnesses such as depression, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease”, says Moa Jederström.

She recently graduated from the medical programme at Linköping University, and has now begun her PhD studies, which she planned all the way back during her master’s thesis. Moa Jederström has also worked clinically at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Linköping University Hospital.

“I hadn’t really given much thought to doing more research about figure skating. I wanted to do my master’s thesis on the subject and thereby give something back to the sport which has been a safe place for me since I was a child. At the same time, I know that it isn’t like this for all children. So I contacted a physician at the Swedish Figure Skating Association to get help designing a study about figure skaters’ health.”

Many coaches are not educated
to deal with this 

Young people’s sports can lead to several problematic situations affecting sleep, eating habits and physical/mental health.

“Many coaches are not educated to deal with this, and sports clubs are not prepared for it.”

Risk factors

Some of the general risk factors for violence within youth sports which have been identified by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) include the relationship to the coach, the intensity of the training, media interest for the athlete in question, and the fact that athletes are being bought and sold between clubs. Or that a certain athlete might move between different clubs, and train at different locations and different times. 

“These athletes might then come further away from a stable context, which can lead to them being more easily exploited. There is also a risk associated with training far away from your parents, for example at a sport-oriented college. You have to remember that it isn’t limited to physical violence, and that it can occur between young people too.”

There are very few studies about young figure skaters.

Working together

“That’s why these studies are needed. We know too little about young figure skaters, both in terms of physical and mental health. We are going to expand the studies later on. We believe that it is possible to find similarities with other sports.”

Moa Jederström says that there are reports about a culture within figure skating where young skaters are, for example, pressured into training or losing weight. She is working together with Professor Laura Korhonen at Barnafrid, a national centre for expertise on violence against children. Professor Korhonen is one of her PhD supervisors.

“We are going to study young figure skaters’ well-being and the culture in figure skating, and we are going to map young skaters’ exposure to psychological violence and other forms of abuse.”

Survey

This far, Moa Jederström has published one article: a cross-sectional study of determinants of sports injuries among young figure skaters. Another study – about anxiety, well-being and body image perception, as well as factors associated with these things – is currently going through a peer review process before publication.

Moa Jederström has conducted a study based partially on the Swedish Public Health Agency’s survey of school-age children’s health habits, which is sent out every fourth year to all school-age children around the ages of nine, eleven and thirteen.

Skipping meals

“We have added several questions specifically about figure skating. About their training habits, which jumps they can execute, at which level they practice etc. It was a very broad survey, intended more as a basic kind of screening.”  

Have you seen any trends?

“We have observed that young figure skaters get less sleep than recommended for their age group. We have also observed that skipping main meals and being older were both associated with either having had a serious sports injury in the past year or having an ongoing sports injury when answering the survey. Skipping meals is, generally speaking, not good for your health. But we can’t tell from this survey why figure skaters do it – we only know that it happens. So we have to conduct more studies, and more interviews."

I want all young people to feel to be able
to feel safe in the sporting world 

She has a passion for young people in sports:

“Local sports clubs are where most children and adolescents participate in sport. Unfortunately, research often focusses on elite sports. But I want all young people to feel to be able to feel safe in the sporting world.”

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