The assessment of subgroups in youth sport via interviews informed by social network analysis

  • Luc J Martin School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University
  • M Blair Evans Department of Kinesiology, Penn State University
  • Mark W Bruner Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University


Despite recent qualitative research investigating the nature of subgroups in sport (Martin et al., 2015, 2016), several issues remain. Notably, these studies were conducted with adult samples, and did not consider the social position of the athletes. As such, the current study sought to explore subgroups in a youth sport setting, with a specific mandate to elicit perceptions from athletes who represented various social positions within a team. Following a two-phase process, athletes (N = 39; Mage = 16.05, SD ­= 0.86) from three youth hockey teams completed questionnaires to identify the social networks of friendships reported by team members. These data were subsequently analyzed using UCINET (Borgatti et al., 2002) to identify included and excluded athletes based on centrality scores. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four included and four excluded athletes (Mage = 17, SD ­= 0.76; 2 females) to explore their perceptions of the subgroups within their current team. As a general summary of our results, subgroups were described as inevitable, variable, and identifiable sub-entities that formed within teams, and all participants discussed positive and negative outcomes emanating from their presence. Interestingly, the majority of negative discussions involved the term 'cliques.' The athletes also advanced a number of factors that contributed to subgroup or clique development (e.g., school enrolment, skill level), and highlighted certain contextual issues (e.g., competitive level of team/league, school vs club sport, age of athletes) that should be considered. Finally, suggestions and current practice for avoiding or manipulating problematic cliques were advanced.

Acknowledgments: Funding provided by the first authors SSHRC Insight Development Grant (430-2014-00353)