An examination of team structure and its implications for subgroups in an individual sport setting
Despite growing research interest in the social dynamics of sport teams, the smaller groups that emerge from within a total team have largely been overlooked. This is concerning given that preliminary investigations highlight the inevitability of their presence, in addition to the potential for them to generate both adaptive and maladaptive outcomes (Martin et al., 2015, 2016; Wagstaff et al., 2017). However, several shortcomings identified in this exploratory body of literature were its (a) inclusion of only one perspective (either athletes or coaches), (b) from a range of different sport teams, without consideration for (c) changes over time, and (d) the specific sport structure that might predispose division within a team. As such, the purpose of this study was to explore how sport structure predisposes a team to subgroup and clique formation, and thus, influences athlete interactions and team functioning. Track and field was chosen as it represents an individual sport composed of several smaller teams ranging in teammate interdependence and event types. An in-depth case-study design was selected, composed of several interviews conducted over the course of a competition season. A single Canadian intercollegiate track and field team was selected, wherein 15 participants (4 coaches, 11 athletes) provided various perspectives from across the team. Semi-structured interviews were conducted early and post season, and transcripts were analyzed using a combination of thematic and exception analyses (Braun et al., 2016; Phoenix & Orr, 2017). Results indicated that this track and field team had a multitude of inherent structural constraints (sport type, event type, facility/schedule limitations, team size, change over time) that directly impacted athlete interactions and predisposed the group to subgroup and clique formation. Consequently, much of the team’s energy was directed toward the management of the social environment (e.g., athlete interactions, cooperation) by undertaking team building activities, utilizing the leadership core, emphasizing consistent and quality communication, and generating individual buy-in. These findings have both theoretical and practical implications and are discussed as they related to the literature. Future directions and study strengths and limitations are advanced herein.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/24973
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