Identifying components of athletes' subgroup perceptions: A conceptual and qualitative approach


Recent advances in team dynamics research suggest subgroups to be an inevitability in sport, and that their presence can have facilitative and debilitative implications at both athlete and team levels (Wagstaff & Martin, 2018). Interestingly, the relative impact that subgroups have within a team appears to revolve less around their objective presence, and more so around athletes' subjective experiences (Martin et al., 2015). As such, the purpose of this study was to advance a series of components expected to be indicative of the way that athletes perceive subgroups in sport. Using a critical realist approach, a theory-driven literature review informed a preliminary list of perceptual components that were then assessed in detail through face-to-face or virtual focus-group interviews with 28 athletes (61% female; Mage = 22.2) from a range of sports (e.g., basketball, hockey, rowing). Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim, coded to identify demi-regularities, and analyzed through abduction and retroduction. The resulting proposed subgroup components include: Observability (e.g., distinctiveness), structural (e.g., variability, exclusivity), organizational orientation (e.g., citizenship behavioural tendencies), organizational representativeness (e.g., team level prototypicality of subgroup members), and affective (e.g., feelings associated with particular subgroups). These components uncover numerous ways that subgroups may be observed by athletes and could further inform our understanding of athletic experiences in sport. Indeed, whereas the traditional discourse pertaining to subgroups has involved trepidation and avoidance, the proposed components can provide a foundation for a more nuanced approach to their investigation.

Acknowledgments: This research project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canada Graduate Scholarship for Master's Students.