Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Norman St. Clair


Sharon Herbers


Randy Dietz


Research Focus. The launch of the 1972 Title IX regulation education amendment arrived at a pivotal time for women in sports. “Title IX recognized the uniqueness of intercollegiate athletics by permitting colleges and universities to have separate and equal athletic programs for women” (Hogshead-Makar, & Zimbalist, 2007, p. 2). As more women began to participate in sports, pressures to perform both competitively and academically presented different challenges for female athletes during their collegiate career. For a female student-athletes to be successful in both academics and athletics, the student-athlete must discover a means to sustain a reasonable balance academically and athletically to maintain eligibility to play and complete graduation. According to recent statistics (2012), “women are still not granted the opportunity to participate on a level playing field” but continue to take advantage of opportunities to participate in collegiate programs (The Next Generation of Title IX Athletics, National Women’s Law Center, June 2012, p 2).

The field of research specific to male participation in an athletic program is vast and can be partly attributed to the longevity of men’s participation in sports (Trull, 2015). Current studies specific to the academic success of the first-generation female student-athlete in collegiate sports exposes a significant gap in the existing literature. The absence of valid studies for the first-generation female student-athletes may be a result of the delay of equal acceptance of women in collegiate sports (Trull, 2015). It was not until the arrival of the 1972 Title IX amendment of equal funding, that support for women’s athletic programs was available and an influx of a diverse group of women began competing in sports.

Research Methods. The approach for the study was a qualitative interpretive design. In this approach, the research aimed to understand the college experience from the lens of the first-generation female student-athlete and to make sense and meaning of their life while balancing the demands of college. The conceptual framework applied during the research process was guided by two leading theorists in student college development. Nevitt Sanford’s (1962) theory of Readiness, Challenge, and Support, and Chickering and Reisser’s (1993) Seven Vectors of Student Development. The research protocol was comprised of semi-structured open-ended interviews with 6 former female student-athletes. Participants were selected through a purposeful sample of former female student-athletes. All participants agreed to voluntarily participate in the 90-minute interview sessions. The trustworthiness of the study was supported through member checking through follow-up interviews to eliminate the possibility of misinterpretation the data.

Research Results/Findings. Data were analyzed through an inductive and constant comparative process and transcribed into categories. Several cycles of categories resulted in a cluster of data of 12 reoccurring categories. The categories were analyzed for reoccurring patterns and categorized using Saldana’s (2016) Values Coding: (1) values, (2) attitudes, and (3) beliefs. Reflective analysis of the codes led to the emergence of overarching themes. Analysis of data revealed four principal themes relevant to the purpose of the study and research questions. The four main themes were: (1) athletic experience is multifaceted, (2) family support is significant to success, (3) athletic expectations are overwhelming, and (4) navigating the college experience while balancing the demands of college and athletics.

Conclusions from Research. Five recommendations were proposed for further research to gain deeper insight and to develop stronger support systems for the first-generation female student-athletes during college: (1) a qualitative study exploring faculty’s perception and understanding of the demands of a female college athlete, (2) A qualitative study exploring a first-generation female student-athletes experience at a NCAA Division 1 institution, (3) a qualitative study exploring the first-generation student-athlete experience and student-athlete identity, (4) a qualitative study of exploring female coaches’ perspective when working with a first-generation female college student, and (5) a qualitative study exploring a first-generation female college coach’s experience in a Division 1 NCAA institution. Muffet McGraw (2019) publicly stated “We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power” (Gardner, p.2). It is important to the progression of female athletes to explore the experiences of female coaches and provide a voice for the women in leadership. In-depth qualitative studies will provide insight into a profound level of understanding of the influence female coaches have on emerging first-generation female athletes. For administrators and women in athletics, it is imperative opportunities for women to continue to grow in the field of athletics. As educators engaging with female student-athletes, we must be cognizant of the dualities of roles female athletes balance during their college career and support their efforts as competitors. We must provide a voice for women in athletics and must continue to advocate for the advancement of women in the competitive world of collegiate and professional sports. As researchers, we must continue to seek ways to increase the knowledge base of women in athletics by filling the gap of available research related to women.