More than just another bib: Group dynamics in an elite nordic ski team


The social environment within individual sport teams may have a significant influence on the success, development, and well-being of athletes. The purpose of this study was to explore elite individual sport athletes' group experiences through the lens of a social identity approach. Participants included six members of an elite nordic ski team. At two times points in the competitive season, a novel online Social Identity Mapping tool (oSIM; Cruwys et al., 2016) was used in combination with semi-structured interviews to garner insights into athletes' social identities and group experiences as a member of the ski team. This study is the first of its kind applying oSIM to a sports setting, allowing individuals to gain a visual representation of the importance and compatibility of social groups in their lives. Interview data were thematically analyzed to explicate participants' perceptions of social identity, and team cohesion, and their significance to success and development in elite individual sport. Major themes included the roles of social identity, cohesion, subgroups, and conflict within the team, as well as the influence of an individual on the collective group. The results provide insight for coaches and individual sport athletes into the various roles which teammates can play in their development and performance. Additionally, findings highlight the benefits of having a cohesive team, even in a sport where athletes compete as individuals. The results of this study also indicate the significance of the coach's role in fostering strong team dynamics, and the benefits which this can have on performance.