In addition to concern for meeting social expectations, stakeholders often cite a belief that lesbian participants negatively affect a team’s performance as a reason for their actions. For example, Griffin (1998) states some coaches call attention to changes in team dynamics related to homosexual behaviors (including dating teammates) and prohibit participation by athletes who identify as lesbians for that reason. She goes on to explain that the same coaches do not find the changes in team dynamics created by “two heterosexual players dating the same male football player” as much of a concern (p. 195). Lenskyj (2003) notes that in the context of administration, “many sport administrators make hiring and firing decisions based on women’s known or perceived sexual orientations, and the resulting poisoned work environment forces some lesbians to quit their jobs or abandon their hopes of an athletic career” (p. 5). It is not clear, however, that these beliefs, or perceptions of expectations, related to athletes or other stakeholders in athletics, have been formed through careful reflection or informed by research.
While discourse regarding the complexities of sexuality is a relatively recent addition to sport literature, the challenge involved in understanding group dynamics in sport is well established. There are many group dynamics that take place within a team, and one of the most important is cohesion. A team’s ability to “gel” or “have good chemistry” is related directly to its performance (Widmeyer, Brawley, & Carron, 1985). The more cohesive the team is, the more the team, as a collective unit, encourages peak performance in all of its members; if cohesion is lacking, it is likely the team will not reach its potential (Sugarman, 1998). There are many factors that are thought to contribute to a team’s cohesiveness, including coach’s personality, coach’s leadership style, and even how much time the team spends socializing (Turman, 2003). It is common for the skill level of participants to be relatively equal in the arena of highly competitive sport, therefore the level of team cohesiveness often makes the difference between winning and losing (Thiese, 1999).
It is a common assumption that homosexuality detracts from team or
cohesion. Much attention has been given to the notion in the context of
military units (Barkawi, Dandeker, Wells-Petry, & Kier, 1999). In
less scholarly attention and popular press has been given to the topic.
To date, qualitative and quantitative research has addressed homophobia
and managing the lesbian “stigma” in sport (Anderson, 2005; Blinde
Taub, 1997), but no researchers have empirically examined whether or
sexual orientation affects factors related to team performance,
team cohesion. In fact, “sport psychologists have largely avoided,
scholarly discourse, examining lesbianism in sport, thereby
‘the silence so loud that it screams’” (Vealey, 1997, p. 165).
The purpose of the present study was to empirically examine whether sexual orientation affected perceptions of team cohesion in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Women’s Basketball Teams. While the present study is exploratory in nature, it provides a necessary foundation for future empirical studies.
Attitudes toward homosexual athletes
A brief explanation of the concepts of stereotyping, homophobia, and homonegativism helps in understanding how the beliefs and perceptions of expectations emerge and are maintained. Distinguishing these concepts illustrates that the behaviors described above may be of an intentional or unintentional nature. This is important because the authors argue that studies like the present one can help eliminate unintentional discrimination through education.
Harrison (2001) describes stereotyping as a “process of imposing characteristics on people based on their perceived group membership” (p. 98). A stereotype, he explains, is a cognitive schema, or a way of organizing information based on past experience or reactions. Stereotypes, it is argued, “are encoded subconsciously in memory and retrieved automatically” (Harrison, p. 99). In other words, because of the commonness of many stereotypes, some are bound to find a place in most people’s minds. It then follows that under stress or pressure, even those who normally express nondiscriminatory values will revert to stereotyping (Harrison).
Certainly, females entering sport, historically a male domain, coupled with the requirement to produce revenue at elite levels of sport, qualify as stressors for participants, coaches, and administrators.
The cognitive process of stereotyping is linked to dichotomous thinking, or seeking to categorize with little or no tolerance for ambiguity, which is in turn linked to what Harrison (2001) called intellectual laziness. It is possible to infer then that mental laziness is a factor in perpetuating negative attitudes toward lesbian athletes.
Homophobia has been defined as the irrational fear and intolerance of homosexuality, gay men, lesbians, or bisexual people (Griffin, 1998). Researchers interested in women’s sport have given this issue considerable scholarly attention. The attitudes and actions associated with homophobia have been reported to be a factor in media representations of female athletes (Cotton & Jackson, 1992; Knight & Giuliano, 2003; Kreigh & Kane, 1997), in job selection and satisfaction (Greendorfer & Rubinson, 1997; Lenskyj, 2003; Wellman & Blinde, 1997), and in the overall quality of the sport experience for women who self-identified as lesbians and women that did not self-identify as lesbians (Cahn, 1994; Griffin, 1998; Hargreaves, 2000; Nelson, 1994). However, attention to team performance issues, especially those related to psychology, and homophobia has been relatively absent.
The concept of homonegativism refers to the purposeful or systematic oppression of those who challenge traditional notions of sexuality and gender roles (Krane, 1997). This concept adds an important dimension to the discussion because it includes the view that actions are predicated on intent (suggesting rational and strategic behavior) to harm homosexuals rather than on irrational fear. It also indicts social institutions rather than just individuals for perpetuating discrimination.
When these concepts are thought of collectively, the complexity involved in changing attitudes and reforming actions in the conduct of women’s sport is apparent. To move toward this goal, specific myths about the impact of sexual orientation on image and performance factors, such as team cohesion, must be investigated. A few qualitative studies provide rich information regarding questions related to sexual orientation and team interaction. For example, Fasting (1998) found that teams with a lesbian presence were over all friendly and accepting of one another independent of sexual orientation. However, Fasting also found many athletes expressed negativity toward lesbian athletes who shared or flaunted their sexuality. These athletes, both those that identified as lesbian and those that did not, were particularly concerned about being unable to recruit young players whose parents objected to the team or sport image and/or environment. Other than this recruiting concern, there was no concern expressed by the players in connection with the impact on other team performance indicators (Fasting).
Theberge’s (2000) ethnographic study of women’s hockey revealed that
athletes did not perceive the presence of lesbians on their team or in
the league as having a negative affect on team performance or social
In fact, the perception was that welcoming lesbian players enhanced
although team cohesion, as a performance measure or predictor, was not
Further study of these complex questions from an empirical perspective can build on the theoretical foundations established and will add valuable insight regarding performance factors like team cohesion.
Cohesion is intuitively seen as an important factor in sport team performance and most coaches devote considerable effort to enhancing cohesion in their teams. Team cohesion has been defined as a multidimensional construct, which includes group goals and objectives as well as development and maintenance of positive interpersonal relationships (Yukelson, Weinberg & Jackson, 1984). Team cohesion is a basic requisite for group maintenance, and without group maintenance a team may have difficulty attaining goals and objectives (Widmeyer et al., 1985).
Carron’s (1982) conceptual model illustrated an important distinction between the two dimensions of team cohesion: task and social. Task cohesion concerns achieving a group’s tangible goals and objectives, including productivity, work output, performance effectiveness, winning games and other team successes. Social cohesion concerns satisfying members’ social and emotional needs such as friendship and affiliation. While these two dimensions are related, researchers have discovered that team members do not necessarily have to socialize with each other off the court in order to play well on the court (Mullen & Copper, 1994).
Measuring Team Cohesion
Widmeyer et al. (1985) completed a comprehensive literature review and compiled their list of suspected antecedents to team cohesion into three categories: characteristics of the group members, characteristics of the group, and situations experienced by the group. These categories were used as the basis for designing the Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ).
The GEQ was designed to measure individual and group members’ perceptions of team cohesion and has proven to be a reliable and valid measure for team cohesion (Widmeyer et al., 1985). The GEQ has eighteen questions that assess four measures of cohesiveness: Individual Attraction to Group-Task, Individual Attraction to Group-Social, Group Integration-Task, and Group Integration-Social (see Figure 1).
The theoretical basis for these four subscales must be described in order to further subsequent discussion. Two subscales concern Individual Attractions to the Group, including both task and social dimensions. These two scales focus on the athlete’s self, and she responds based on her perceptions and feelings. The Individual Attractions to the Group-Task (ATG-T) subscale reflects the individual team member’s feelings about the attractiveness of the group task, the group’s productivity, and the group’s goals and objectives (for specific examples of what each subscale addresses, see figure 1). The Individual Attractions to the Group-Social (ATG-S) subscale reflects the individual team member’s feelings about the attractiveness of the group as a social unit and the social interactions within the group.
The other two subscales concern group integration, where the athlete-individual assesses the group as a whole by answering questions that measure her perceptions of the team related to its coherence around task and social activities. The Group Integration-Task (GI-T) subscale is a measure of the task oriented similarity, closeness and bonding within the team as a whole. The Group Integration-Social (GI-S) subscale is a measure of socially oriented similarity, closeness and bonding within the team as a whole.
Team Cohesion Studies
In addition to Widmeyer et al.’s (1985) foundational basis for effectively measuring team cohesion, three studies examined relationships between team cohesion and performance effects. Other researchers have utilized the GEQ to examine how other variables effected, or were affected by, a team’s cohesion.
Relating to team cohesion and performance effects, Mullen and Copper (1994) conducted a meta-analysis of studies from various sub-disciplines in psychology (e.g. industrial, sport, military, social). Beauchesne, Turner, Brennan, and Hoopengardner (1997) examined the cohesiveness of one women’s field hockey team in relation to several variables, including performance. Carron, Bray and Eys (2002) studied how team cohesion is related to team success.
Mullen and Copper (1994) grouped 49 team cohesion studies into two different paradigms: (a) correlational studies where members of intact teams perceptions of cohesiveness were correlated with performance, and (b) experimental studies where high and low levels of team cohesion were experimentally induced. Each paradigm had strengths and weaknesses. While the experimental paradigm allowed greater control over determining direction of influence, the correlational paradigm allowed for greater naturalism. For the correlational studies, cohesiveness-performance effect decreased as a function of interpersonal attraction (ATG-S and GI-S, both social subscales) and increased as a function of commitment to task (ATG-T and GI-T, both task subscales). Interpersonal attraction (i.e. friendship) and group pride did not make independent contributions to cohesiveness-performance effect for either the correlational or experimental studies. Within each paradigm, commitment to task emerged as the critical predictor of performance. Further, the task components were the strongest predictors of cohesiveness-performance effect in the experimental paradigm and the only predictors of effect in the correlational paradigm. Therefore, Mullen and Copper concluded that commitment to task was the primary component of cohesiveness for predicting performance.
Beauchesne et al. (1997) examined the cohesiveness of a 15-member women’s field hockey team using the GEQ, a leadership questionnaire, and six sociometric questions. Details of the GEQ analysis revealed that this team was much more cohesive in social aspects than in task-related areas. The social dimension subscales, ATG-S and GI-S were in the 75th and 80th percentiles respectively, while the task subscales ATG-T and GI-T were in the 55th and 30th percentiles (on the norms for females from Widmeyer et al., 1985). While these team members were moderately cohesive overall and showed a high concern for relationships, people and social issues, they were lower in task cohesiveness. This team did not do well in terms of wins and losses during the season of this research.
The primary purpose of Carron et al.’s (2002) study was to examine the relationship between task cohesiveness (GEQ subscales ATG-T and GI-T) and win/loss percentages in elite basketball and soccer teams. Carron et al. focused on the relationship between task cohesion and team success only, and not the relationship between social cohesion and team success, due to participant burden and conceptual rationale (see Mullen & Copper, 1994). Participants included 294 Canadian intercollegiate and club athletes from 18 basketball and 9 soccer teams. Researchers hypothesized that GI-T and ATG-T would both be positively related to team success in terms of wins and losses and the GI-T would show a stronger relationship to team success than ATG-T. The intraclass correlation coefficients and eta-squared statistics for both subscales were consistent with group effects (wins/losses), lending support for the hypothesis that task cohesion is related to a team’s win/loss record. Contrary to the hypothesis, the summation of effect sizes showed that, within the total sample, the relationship between GI-T and success was very strong (r=.57), but the relationship between ATG-T and success was even stronger (r=.67). Therefore, the individual’s attraction to the group’s success on tasks was an even stronger predictor of team success than the individual’s perception of how well the team worked on task functions.Relating to how other variables effected, or were affected by, a team’s cohesion, Turman (2003) conducted a study on coaching techniques and strategies. Mathes (1997) examined team performance and Eys et al. (2003) explored pre-competition anxiety.
Turman (2003) examined how specific coaching techniques and
were utilized by coaches to foster and promote cohesion among their
through the use of interviews. Turman’s findings identified a number of
techniques that diminished cohesion (i.e. inequity, embarrassment and
and a number of techniques that increased cohesion (i.e. bragging,
and teasing, motivational speeches, quality of opponent, athlete
techniques, team prayer, and dedication).
Mathes (1997) studied how team cohesion was affected by winning and losing on interacting teams (groups playing together, e.g. lacrosse and basketball) and co-acting teams (individuals competing for a team score, e.g. swimming and gymnastics) using all four subscales of the GEQ. In contrast to earlier studies, Mathes’ study found that co-acting teams scored significantly higher ( p < .05) on the ATG-T and GI-T subscales after a loss, rather than a win.
Eys et al. (2003) examined the association between athlete perceptions of task cohesiveness (ATG-T and GI-T subscales) and the degree to which perceptions of the intensity of pre-competition anxiety symptoms were viewed as facilitating or debilitating. Findings showed that athletes who perceived their anxiety as facilitative had higher scores on one or both of the task subscales. While many other researchers have studied team cohesion with various populations, a review of these is not directly related to this paper.
The research questions addressed by the present study were: (a) do athletes that self-identify as lesbians and athletes that do not self-identify as lesbians have different scores on team cohesion? and (b) does the perceived presence of non-self-identified lesbians on their team affect the athlete’s team cohesion scores?
A modified version of the Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ)
et al., 1985) was used to investigate the effects of sexual orientation
on team cohesion among Division II women’s collegiate basketball
A description of the instrumentation, sampling, data collection and
Six demographic and gender-related questions were developed and
to the GEQ in order to address the research questions posed by the
study: (a) What year are you in school? (b) How many years have you
on this team? (c) Did you play high-school basketball? (d) Do you
yourself to be a lesbian? (e) Are there any self-identified lesbians on
your team, and if yes, how many? and (f) Are there any individuals on
team who you believe are lesbians, but do not identify themselves, and
if yes, how many?
GEQ Scores for Lesbian and Non-Lesbian Athletes
Reliability coefficients for the study sample on each of the four subscales ATG-T, ATG-S, GI-T and GI-S were .11, .74, .75 and .78 respectively. The authors speculated that the low reliability for ATG-T might have occurred because of the small sample size and the high discrimination power of the 9-point spread on the Likert scale. The mean GEQ score for the three reliable subscales were compared for self-identified lesbian athletes and non-lesbian athletes (see Table 1).
While there were no significant differences for the GI-T subscale, the GEQ subscales for the social dimensions of team cohesion (ATG-S and GI-S) were both significantly higher for non-lesbian athletes than lesbian athletes (p < .05 and p < .10 respectively) (see Table 1). The ATG-S mean of 32.67 for non-lesbian athletes was higher than the mean of 25.00 for lesbian athletes (p=.021). The GI-S mean of 23.33 for non-lesbian athletes was higher than the mean of 17.69 for lesbian athletes (p=.068) (see Table 1).
Does the perceived presence of non-self-identified lesbians
Research question two was examined by comparing GEQ subscale scores for athletes who stated there were lesbians on their team who had not self-identified and athletes who stated there were not any non-self-identified lesbians on their team (see Table 2). One finding emerged with regard to the Group Integration-Social (GI-S)
subscale, which measured the athletes’ perceptions of the socially oriented similarity, closeness and bonding of the team as a whole. Those athletes perceiving there were non-self-identified lesbian athletes present on their team scored lower with a GI-S subscale mean of 17.66, while athletes perceiving there were not any non-self-identified lesbian athletes present on their team scored higher with a mean of 23.33 (p = .068) (see Table 2).
Both self-identified lesbian and non-lesbian athletes in the present study provided their most positive responses to the group integration-task questions (see Figure 1 and Table 1). The meta-analysis by Mullen and Copper (1994) supported the concept that the task subscales, and not the social subscales, were the strongest predictors of cohesiveness-performance effect (i.e. if a team has strong task cohesion, they will win more games). Mullen and Copper also found that the social subscales did not predict, and were actually negatively correlated with, performance-effect. Carron et al. (2002) further reinforced the finding that higher task scores were the strongest predictors of team success. Therefore, if a team’s primary concern is winning games, task subscale scores are the most important measures of cohesion to consider. Notably, in the present study both non-lesbian and self-identified lesbian athletes were very similar in their ratings of how well the team pulled together on group-oriented tasks. No observations can be made about the individual attractions to the group-task subscale due to poor reliability. Therefore, these athletes perceived they were contributing equally to the team’s task performance without regard to sexual orientation.
Non-lesbian athletes were more positive than self-identified lesbian athletes regarding the appeal of the team for social interactions on both individual and group levels (see Figure 1 and Table 1). While high social cohesion has not been correlated with winning games (Carron et al., 2002), and may actually have some negative consequences in terms of winning (Hardy, Eyes & Carron, 2005), it should be noted that many collegiate sports teams have other goals. For programs where quality social experiences and personal development of athletes is considered important, athletes’ scores on social subscales may be cause for concern. Stakeholders may consider adding more direct, positive opportunities for social interaction between team members, such as team building activities like completing challenge courses, creating skits, or hosting celebrations. Additionally, facilitation of social interaction during competitions themselves may be less cumbersome for organizational personnel and may be better received by athletes. Theberge (2000) notes, that in women’s hockey, players report increased social interaction when competition is formatted as a tournament rather than home and home contests. Since self-identified lesbian and non-lesbian athletes differed on aspects of social cohesion, a more comprehensive study to further explore the nature of these differences could inform stakeholders about ways to improve social cohesion for all athletes.
Athletes perceiving the presence of non-self-identified lesbians on their team were lower in their ratings of the team as a socially similar, close, socially oriented unit (see Figure 1 and Table 2). These results may not be surprising because athletes might be expected to provide lower ratings for group members whom they perceived were less than honest (e.g. by not revealing their sexuality). Though honesty as a factor affecting cohesion has not been explored to any great extent in the sport setting, honesty is studied more thoroughly in the general context of unit or group cohesion. For example, Brown and Ayres (2004) suggest that policy and/or custom requiring a lack of honesty regarding sexual orientation in the military has impeded “the very honesty and intimacy that helps to forge strong bonds” (p. 187). The responses of the athletes surveyed in the present study suggest that honesty may be important to cohesion in the sport setting as well.
Several limitations in the present study must be acknowledged: (a)
sample size is small and limited to 35 athletes from three Division II
women’s collegiate basketball teams, (b) the small sample size combined
with the high discriminatory power of the 9-point Likert scale resulted
in poor reliability for the ATG-T subscale so these results could not
reported, (c) the three teams were a convenience sample all from the
state, and (d) one of the three teams openly discussed players’ sexual
orientation while completing the questionnaire. This creates a
threat to internal validity, but the comparison of this team’s GEQ
to the other two teams revealed no obvious differences. Therefore,
results, while not generalizable to other female collegiate athletes,
be considered as the first empirical evidence of their kind, which
a foundation for future studies and discussions.
Second, the differences that did exist between non-lesbian and self-identified lesbian athletes were all related to social aspects of team cohesion. Non-lesbian athletes scored significantly higher on questions related to the teams’ ability to satisfy members’ social and emotional needs. To date, researchers have not found a strong connection between social cohesion and winning (Carron et al., 2002; Mullen & Copper, 1994). Therefore, lower social cohesion scores for lesbian athletes may not be cause for concern except when stakeholders perceive there is a desired social benefit to be derived from sport participation. If this finding is validated through additional research, it could be recommended that teams with goals related to socialization and character development of athletes may want to conduct more education, teambuilding and trust activities. If it can be established through additional research that non-lesbian athletes have no problem playing with self-identified lesbian athletes, more openness can be encouraged.
Finally, while a number of athletes perceived the presence of non-self-identified lesbians on their teams, such presence did not significantly affect the athletes’ cohesion scores for the group integration-task subscale. However, some differences were evident in the Group Integration-Social (GI-S) subscale indicating that those athletes who felt there were non-self-identified lesbians on their team were less likely to feel closeness and bonding with the team as a whole with regard to social activities.
In closing, we would like to re-iterate Krane’s (1997) observation
prejudice and discrimination affects homosexuals and heterosexuals
in that all women in sport are potentially harmed by myths associated
lesbian athletes. While the present study is an initial, descriptive
toward filling a gap between scholarly discourse and perceptions
sexual orientation in women’s collegiate sports, much work remains to
done. Future studies are needed replicate and validate these findings
greater sample sizes that lend themselves to generalizability. The
propose that in addition to team cohesion, other variables of interest
could include win/loss records, athletes’ personality types, effect of
coaching behaviors, and impact of extraordinary events such as the
of a coach or loss of a team member. Future studies should continue to
explore athletes’ perceptions and attitudes with focused discussion on
issues relevant to the goals of collegiate athletics and stakeholder
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