Exploring the role of sport participation and social support on social identity in adolescent male athletes


Social identity (i.e., the strength with which individuals identify with a group) is a key mechanism through which youth sport participants derive developmental benefits (Martin et al., 2017). More broadly, research has identified social identity as both a protective and curative mechanism for mental health (Cruwys et al, 2016). However, despite the importance of one's social identity in promoting and maintaining mental health, our understanding of the antecedents of social identity within the sport context is limited by the absence of evidence. To address this gap, it is necessary to examine how the frequency and duration of sport participation as well as social support from family, friends, and coaches are associated with one's social identification in sport. This study investigated how sport participation frequency and duration and social support from coaches, family, and friends relate to social identification with a sport team in youth sport athletes. Male adolescent athletes (N = 373; Mage = 14.64, SD = 1.71) from 85 sport teams completed measures of sport participation, social support, and social identity. The relations were analyzed within a multilevel framework. At the individual-level, sport participation frequency, and social support provided by coaches, family, and friends predicted higher levels of social identity. At the group level, team means for coach support predicted higher social identity. Results highlight the potential influential role that sport participation and social support may have on social identity in youth sport. Understanding the antecedents of social identity may be critical in enhancing the mental health benefits of participation in organized team sports.

Acknowledgments: Movember Foundation, Canada Research Chairs Program, & SSHRC