Perceiving and Experiencing Subgroups in Sport: A Conceptual and Qualitative Approach
Sport research intimates that the presence of subgroups within a superordinate team can vary from being facilitative to debilitative at both the individual and team levels (e.g., Martin et al., 2015). Interestingly, researchers have made limited progress in documenting the processes or mechanisms that shape athlete perspectives and experiences with subgroups. Specifically, how do athletes observe the smaller entities that emerge within their superordinate teams, and what is it about them that renders them more or less favorable? The purpose of this thesis was to advance a conceptualization of athlete experiences with subgroups in sport. A four-phase qualitative design rooted in critical realism was employed, whereby: (1) six focus group interviews (n = 28 interuniversity athletes) were conducted, (2) a preliminary conceptualization based on relevant theory and themes from Phase 1 was proposed, (3) group dynamics scholars (n = 5) took part in a conceptualization review process, and (4) a subsample of athletes from Phase 1 (n = 6) was reengaged for individual reflection interviews. All four phases contributed to the development of a conceptual sport subgroup framework that suggests athlete experiences with subgroups are based on the extent to which they recognize their presence (i.e., observability) and the associated behaviours (i.e., behavioural) demonstrated by the observed subgroups. These two dimensions subsequently inform individual athlete affective, cognitive, and behavioural outcomes. Herein, I summarize the relevant literature pertaining to subgroups, describe the methodological processes adopted for this study, advance the resulting subgroup conceptualization, discuss the theoretical and practical implications of the findings, and conclude by highlighting study strengths, limitations, and possible future directions, and provide a personal reflection.