As of February 6th, 2019, I began to look at the status and interactions in groups. The group I chose was the King’s College Women’s Ice Hockey team. I decided on this group because it was easily accessible to me, as I am a member, and we are frequently together. The key to this project was to observe and take notes without having the rest of the team know in fear they may act differently. I had to keep the project to myself and act as I normally would to collect the desired actions of my other teammates. I observed several interactions and meetings between us from our last practice of the season on February 9th, 2019 to our last team meeting on April 25th, 2019.
Going into this project I was expecting the team to form a hierarchy of players on and off the ice, especially as end of the season tensions run high. Based on previous experience of playing on women’s hockey teams I anticipated nothing less. Also, I was predicting other issues to form as a result of the hierarchy, such as cliques, drama, and other smaller matters to form.
During the 11 weeks of observation, I paid close attention to the major, more important meetings between the team such as our final weeks of the season, numerous team meetings, other social outings, and our team banquet. I was focusing on times when majority of us were together at the same time. Most often I chose events where 15 of the 18 total players on the team were present. I wanted cases where most of the players were present to ensure I was collecting valuable results. I was looking for elements from a player’s social stratum to feelings of togetherness.
The social psychology of stratification played a role forming the hierarchy of players within the team. It was especially evident in our last practice of the season on February 9th, 2019. As our coaches were not on the ice with us that day, a small group of players formed who felt like they were entitled to run the practice themselves. Social stratification is a process in which social inequalities exist in the form of structural hierarchical strata. Stratification is a means of differentiation placing people above others. The four sub processes of social stratification include differentiation, evaluation, ranking, and rewarding. In the case of the hockey team, this division among players was formed by status given to players and ability on the ice, as well as prestige and desirability. Here began the idea of multiple inequalities within the team. This idea examined the distribution of power within the team. I found that networks and social capital was the prominent reason for this stratification process. Quickly, I found the players with the highest status were the first ones to take control of our last practice and moving forward the rest of our meetings and team events. This group of five players were appointed by our head coach earlier in the season as the “leadership committee”. Once given this title, these five players immediately started the social stratification process. Again, it was especially evident the last practice of the season when there was no authority figure on the ice. This idea was stratification and how they act with others. This group was authoritative and controlling. Instead of interacting with the whole team, they kept to each other and made decisions without the input of most of the team. This phenomenon continued throughout the rest of the season and as the season ended as coaches were no longer involved with us.
This concept was further suggested by other ideas related to status and interaction in groups such as cohesion, conformity, and performance. Cohesion incorporates the concepts of identity commitment and network ties. Conformity embodies the idea of group think and diffusion of responsibility. Likewise, performance includes the concept of social facilitation vs social inhibition. These propositions were evident more toward the end of the 11 weeks of my observations. Identity commitment was apparent within the team captain. For the team captain it built a sense of who she was based on the others in their group. This was formed by the idea of who she stood to lose if her identity of team captain was performed inadequately. It was her idea of self that kept her playing her role. In her case she acted as how a typical team captain would act, not how the team needed her to act in lieu of the situations we faced together. There was a conflict between her situated self and global self. There was a discontinuity of how she saw herself vs how the rest of the team saw and interpreted her actions. Likewise, her identity management, self- enhancement and self- verification, was not the same as it was for the rest of the team. While she was seeking out situations to attain and maintain a positive view of herself, it was not as how the team saw her. This created more of a divisional hierarchy within the team as the leadership committee members sided with her and the rest of the team did not agree with her methods and actions. The leadership committee began distancing themselves from the rest of the team as did the remaining members as we began to have conflicting opinions. Moreover, this led to other problems such as diffusion of responsibly under the idea of conformity. When it came to making team decisions, most of the team lacked input and left it up to the leadership committee, knowing in a sense it was their opinion that was going to be the course of action. This happened multiple times, such as deciding when team meetings were going to occur, team outings, and other important decisions such as those regarding next season and how the team should be running and handled. Ultimately, at the end of the 11 weeks, on April 25th, 2019, this concept lead to the downfall of our captain due to role conflict and role strain. In a team meeting that night, two outcomes of role strain were announced to the team. Psychosis and role exiting were the ideas our team captain explained to the team. Although she loved what she was doing the stress of being team captain was enough and she announced she was not coming back the next season. Despite how divided the team was regarding feelings about the captain we all came together that night to comfort our captain and pay our respect for her leading the team for the previous two seasons.
Another grouping in the idea of status and interaction in groups is the notion of social networks. While this was perceivable throughout the whole season, it became more prevalent toward the last two sets of games we had. As we were playing two teams, we had a chance of winning against, our coach began to limit the ice time of some players and up the ice time of others to push for wins. This formed a ranking of players based on ability that ultimately translated to a social stratification off the ice. The ranking of players based on desirability to the coach in game situations began to emerge in other social situations we faced as a team. It furthered the division among players and gave each individual players a social position relative to other members. This created more tension among the group as some felt like they were better than others in every sense and some felt like they weren’t good enough to associate with the rest of the team. It divided us into three levels. The “top” players, those in the “middle”, and those “low level” players whose ice time was very limited. This idea quickly came to light off the ice as the season ended and the team formed cliques that related to how much the coach depended on us as a player, not as a person. However, these feelings of inadequacy on the ice led to players off the ice not wanting to be part of the social aspect of playing on a college sports team. This newly designed social network was measured by extensiveness and density. Extensiveness relates to the number of paths in a network, here the network consisting of the 18 players on the King’s College Women’s Ice Hockey Team, while density was the number of ties between each person. Therefore, how closely related each teammate was to another given teammate. This notion of sources of power in this social network can be measured by the four avenues to power. The first being dependence based, states that the power of action “a” over actor “b” is equal to the degree that actor “b” is dependent on actor “a”. In short term, power is equal to dependence. In our social network, our team captain would have the most dependence-based power as the entire team relied on her to make the right decisions with the entire team in mind. The second avenue is degree based. In this case it is the actor with the most direct ties. Again, in this case our team captain would have the highest level of degree- based power as she is the one the rest of the team must go through for any issues or any other general things such as weekly grade meetings and wellness checks. The team captain has the most direct ties because she must as part of her role. Betweenness based power is that who has the position between two important constituencies. In the case of the hockey team, our assistant captain would have the most betweenness- based power as she is the messenger between the captain and the remaining players on the team. She is in a very powerful and vulnerable position as she essential plays the middle man in our network. The final avenue to power is closeness based. Closeness- based power involves one’s patterns of direct and indirect ties. Basically, it is how one can access all members in the network the fastest, as they have the least number of ties to reach them. In the case of the team, our other alternate captain would have the highest closeness- based power as she is well liked and confided in by the entirety of the team.
The idea of who has the most power in the group reinforces the idea of status. The status characteristics theory focuses on how attitudes of group members shape behavior between members of the given group. The term status is based on expectations of one’s contribution for a desired outcome. In the case of the hockey team, it would be the actions attributed to the betterment of the team as whole. Status characteristics bring social meaning to group networks. There are two different types of status characteristics that contribute to people gaining power in a group setting. Diffuse status characteristics are more general, such as race and sex, specific characteristics are more related to the situation. Specific status characteristics include ability, desirability, and expertise. In the case of the team, the hierarchy formed both on and off the ice, was formed by specific status characteristics such as hockey ability. Specific status characteristics are more for organizing processes in a task related setting. In the case of the hockey team it was a way for the coach to basically “rank” the ability players with the task being to play competitively and win a hockey game. Both diffuse and status characteristics become salient when they begin to differentiate members in a given social network. When a given members characters are activated, they come with a set of expectations of performance. In the case of the hockey team, the characteristic of having a high ability to play hockey came with a set of expectations to lead the team on and off the ice. Likewise, those having a lower expectation of play came with the notion of not being actively involved with the team. It is when these characteristics are aggregated that the level of ability become relative to others within that group, therefore solidifying that unintentional division among players. Once this happens it creates a cycle of order in a group. This order continues to be reinforced due to a burden of proof, the idea that these statuses will operate until discounted by an outside force.
Despite the hierarchy of members of the King’s College Women’s Ice Hockey Team, due to many factors of status and interactions in groups, I found during dire times we can put all our differences aside and become one solid unit. This project was especially interesting to me because there were unexpected moments that led every member to become equal. This was observed when we learned one of our coaches was leaving, and on three more separate occasions when each time we learned of another member of our team was not returning for the years to come. During these critical moments it did not matter who had the highest playing ability, who had the most power in the group, and who carried the most status in the group. Overall, this project was very eye- opening as the weeks went on as I found that there are ways to avoid having such problems emerge and worsen throughout the season.
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- McLeod, Saul. “Saul McLeod.” Simply Psychology, 1 Jan 1970, www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html
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- “Social Stratification.” Sociology Guide, www.sociologyguide.com/social-stratification/.
- “Status Characteristics Theory.” Sicotests, www.sicotests.com/darticle.asp?page=167.