Teammate social ties and subgroup memberships: A season-long social network analysis in track and field


Sports like track and field have complex interdependence structures, wherein teams are divided by event types with distinct tasks and objectives, while simultaneously sharing a collective outcome. Theorists expect that inherent structural features shape members' interactions by distinguishing teammates whose outcomes are intertwined (Evans et al., 2012). The purpose of this study was to examine: (a) the relationship between athlete centrality and perceptions of team cohesion, and (b) the density of ties among members who share common attributes (e.g., compete in same event). This study followed a Canadian intercollegiate track and field team composed of 113 athletes (49% female) representing four event types. Questionnaires assessed demographics, perceived cohesion, and roster-based nomination items pertaining to social interactions. Data were collected across two waves: (1) early season (n = 78), and (2) postseason (n = 63). At an individual level, beta-centrality and perceived cohesion were measured at each wave. At a group-level, Quadratic Assessment Procedure (QAP) correlations explored how sex and event related to athlete interactions. Results indicated a significant relationship between athlete centrality and perceptions of cohesion (early: r = 0.437 p = <0.001; late: r = 0.571, p = <0.001). Additionally, small relationships were found for sex (r = 0.090, p = <0.001) at both waves, and event type for early (r = 0.233, p = <0.001) but not late season (r = 0.033, p = 0.055). Results indicate (1) structural divisions weaken over time, (2) multiple variables likely influence tie formation, and (3) certain athletes can bridge social gaps.