Coaches’ Perceptions of Social Identity in Youth Sport: When Youth Athletes Think and Behave as “Us”

in International Sport Coaching Journal
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  • 1 Queen’s University
  • 2 Nipissing University
  • 3 Brock University
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This study sought to examine coaches’ perceptions of social identity among their athletes and explore the ways that they may attempt to influence its development. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 12 head coaches (Mage = 49.25 years; SD = 6.5 years; Mexperience  = 15.75 years; SD = 7.66 years; nfemale = 1) of male (n = 8) and female (n = 4) competitive youth ice hockey teams. Three main themes were identified through our analysis. First, the coaches’ perceptions of athletes’ social identities were described through examples of peer connection and similarity (i.e., in-group ties), athletes’ experience of positive affect (i.e., in-group affect), and athletes demonstrating the meaning and value that they attribute to team membership (i.e., cognitive centrality). Second, the coaches discussed a variety of ways that they sought to develop and reinforce a shared social identity within their teams. These behaviors aligned with principles advanced within the social identity leadership literature—namely, the coaches acted as in-group prototypes, in-group champions, entrepreneurs of identity, and embedders of identity. Finally, the coaches identified parents and cliques as key social agents with the ability to undermine social identity development. The findings are discussed in relation to both their theoretical and practical implications.

Herbison and Martin are with the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada. Cowan and Bruner are with the School of Physical and Health Education, Nipissing University, North Bay, ON, Canada. Root is with the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Brock University, Saint Catharines, ON, Canada.

Herbison (jordan.herbison@queensu.ca) is corresponding author.
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