Social Physical Anxiety and School Physical Education: Teenage Girls in Swimming Lessons

María José Camacho Miñano

Neila del Alba Aragón Herraiz

*Corresponding author: María José Camacho-Miñano

Original Language

Cite this article

Camacho-Miñano, M. J., & Aragón Herraiz, N. del A. (2014). Social Physical Anxiety and School Physical Education: Teenage Girls in Swimming Lessons. Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 116, 87-94.



This qualitative study examines the social physical anxiety (SPA) experienced by teenage girls in the context of swimming lessons given as part of physical education (PE) and explores its explanatory factors as well as the coping strategies used. We carried out a case study in a school by means of 12 semi-structured interviews with teenage girls and the teachers who taught them in swimming lessons combined with observation of these lessons. The data were categorised using qualitative content analysis and triangulation. The results show that SPA is an emotion that many girls experience in swimming lessons because their bodies are exposed to the evaluative gaze of others, especially boys. The social context of the lessons is crucial since being subjected to criticism or ridicule about their physical appearance by their peers is one of the causal factors of SPA, while social support and acceptance help to minimise it. The consequences of this discomfort result in coping strategies designed to resolve problems by adopting specific behaviours to conceal the body, manage emotions by reassuring themselves that it is a normal situation, and even avoid the situation by refusing to participate in the lessons. Teachers should consider this problem when teaching swimming in order to provide girls with a positive PE experience.

Keywords: Body Image, Gender, Physical Education, Social Physical Anxiety, Swimming Lessons, Teenage Girls.

ISSN: 1577-4015

Received: July 26, 2013

Accepted: January 10, 2014

Published: April 1, 2014