Understanding social identity and moral behaviour in competitive youth ice hockey: A narrative perspective


An important component of young athletes’ self-concept is the identities they form through their membership on sport teams – their social identities. Social identity has been found to play a salient role in regulating teammate behavior in youth participating in a range of sports (Bruner, Boardley, & Côté, 2014). This study aimed to better understand how social identity can influence moral behaviour specifically in competitive youth ice hockey. Thirty-six male and female competitive youth ice hockey players (M age = 12.4, SD =1.7) participated in narrative interviews. Four team roles (team captain, verbal cheer leader, social captain, most aggressive player) as identified by the head coach were purposefully sampled from nine teams. Athletes participated in a semi-structured interview near the beginning and end of the regular season. Narrative analysis confirmed that the four team roles were distinct from one another, highlighting unique characteristics for each role with respect to social identity, team norms and moral behaviour toward teammates and opponents. For example, while each of the roles reported identifying strongly with their respective team, the most aggressive role athletes often felt underappreciated and frustrated and this prompted them to act antisocially toward opponents. Collectively, the findings suggest that athletes’ roles, and their social identities developed through team membership may influence young athletes’ compliance and promotion of team norms, and their moral behaviour toward teammates and opponents. Additionally, the results indicate that youth-sport coaches and practitioners should be cognizant of how different roles on a team may impact social identity, norm compliance and moral behaviour.

Acknowledgments: The project is supported by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC 430—2013-00950).