An interpretive analysis of the social functions of emotions in sport


There is increasing attention to interpersonal aspects of emotions and emotion regulation in sport (Friesen et al., 2013; Tamminen & Gaudreau, 2014), yet researchers have rarely explored athletes' perceptions of the functions of emotions within team and group settings. The purpose of this research was to explore athletes' accounts of the social functions of emotions in sport. Team (n = 9) and individual (n = 5) sport varsity athletes (50% female, age range: 18-26 years) each participated in two semi-structured interviews. Interpretive data analysis consisted of coding, categorization, and thematic organization (Mayan, 2009). Athletes reported individual and communal stressors, which were distinguished by: (a) the extent to which the stressor affected the entire team; (b) the role of the athlete(s) affected by the stressor; and (c) the origin of the stressor (e.g., academic vs. sport). Athletes described experiences of individual, group-based, and collective emotions, and they also reported emotional conflict when they simultaneously experienced individual and group-based or collective emotions. With respect to the social functions of emotions, participants indicated that emotional expressions impacted team functioning and performance, communicated team values, and served affiliative functions among teammates. Emotions also prompted communal coping to deal with stressors as a team. Athletes' emotional experiences, expressions, and communal coping were influenced by social relationships with teammates, and by leaders and coaches. Based on these findings, framed within a growing body of literature, emotions are not 'individual' phenomena. Rather, emotions occur within the context of interpersonal relationships, and emotions have social and performance consequences in sport.