Taking role responsibility within individual sport environments


Though the majority of sport group dynamics research focuses on interdependent sport teams (e.g., soccer, basketball), various lines of investigation have examined group dynamics in the context of more individual types of sports (e.g., track and field, swimming, wrestling). Individual sports often involve task interdependence (e.g., athletes training together in shared spaces, travelling to and attending competitions together with a group identity), and the group’s structure and teammate interactions can significantly influence athletes’ experiences in these sports. Extending this body of research, the present study examined the dynamics of roles—a group’s structural element that encompasses a set of behavioral expectations for group members—in individual sport teams. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 former or current athletes (Mage = 20.5 years) who had, on average, 7.5 years of experience in competitive individual sports. Interview data were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. Participants discussed that leadership-oriented roles (e.g., captainship, informal leadership, mentorship) were important for group functioning, and emphasized the need to create more natural, informal leadership/mentorship opportunities rather than delegating formalized responsibilities. Various informal roles were also discussed, including team comedians, cheer captains/supporters, social conveners, spark plugs, and team mediators, all of which served diverse functions. Additionally, participants described the detrimental influence that team cancers had within their groups. These findings highlight the relevance of roles within individual sport teams and provide a foundation for continued research that can identify strategies for promoting effective dynamics of individual sport teams.