Positional competition and intra-team conflict in university team-sport athletes


In elite sport, athletes often engage in positional competition (i.e., teammates vying for the same, limited playing time under the awareness of the coach; Harenberg et al., 2015). This competition is unique to elite sports; it is an ongoing, selective process that involves various team members (i.e., teammates in the same position, coaches). Anecdotal evidence suggests that positional competition might lead to conflict — defined as an interpersonal experience of negative emotional reactions to perceived disagreements and interference with the attainment of goals (Barki & Hartwick, 2004). From a research perspective, the relationship between these two multidimensional constructs has yet to be explored. As such, the current project sought to examine the relationship between positional competition and intra-team conflict in university team-sport athletes. A total of 102 Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes (Mage = 20.77; SD = 2.07; n = 78 females) completed the Positional Competition in Team Sport Questionnaire (Harenberg et al., 2014) and the Group Conflict Questionnaire (Paradis et al., 2014). Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to examine the relationships between the constructs. Significant negative relationships were found between task and social conflict, and three dimensions of positional competition (i.e., push by teammates, coach recognition, coach selection; r=-.19 – r=-.37). The findings indicate that higher perceptions of positional competition may in fact be related to lower perceptions of intra-team conflict. Contrary to traditional perspectives of competition being predominantly destructive, positional competition within sport teams is a group process that may be constructive in nature. Limitations and future directions are discussed.