Abstract sport identity of polish badminton players in the context
The main theme of this paper was the notion of sport identity and identity reinforcement of top Polish badminton players in comparison to representatives of other sport disciplines of various levels of social recognition and popularity in Poland. The desire of recognition from one’s own social setting constitutes undoubtedly one of the most important human psychological needs. The mentioned above desire can be explained by the fact that social recognition is the main factor enabling a person to achieve a feeling that his or her life is meaningful and valuable. A person obtains such recognition of his/her activities when they are consistent with the “screenplays” of the social roles he/she is expected to play. Thus, the feelings of meaningfulness and valuableness of someone’s own life appear when a person plays the social roles he/she is demanded to play and it is, without any doubt, the basic reason why people internalise their social roles, what means that they identify themselves with them and make them elements of their identity. The assumption that the need of social recognition exerts a decisive influence on formation of human identity is probably the most important of the assumptions we formulated before our research on sport identity in contemporary Poland. We made it following the example of Weiss, who used the mentioned above assumption as a basis for his research on sport identity, which he carried out in Austria some years ago [Weiss 1999]. However, it was not the only assumption we made. According to the second of our assumptions, people tend to increase the feeling of meaningfulness of their lives by carrying out a peculiar psychological hierarchisation of the social roles which they play – a person increases above the average level his or her identification with the roles which are the source of relatively big social recognition and he/she distances himself/herself from the rest of his/her roles, perceiving them as such aspects of his/her life which do not express his/her “real self”.
Aim and theoretical premises of the research
The main theme of this paper was the notion of sport identity and identity reinforcement of top Polish badminton players in comparison to representatives of other sport disciplines of various levels of social recognition and popularity in Poland. The desire of recognition from one’s own social setting constitutes undoubtedly one of the most important human psychological needs. The mentioned above desire can be explained by the fact that social recognition is the main factor enabling a person to achieve a feeling that his or her life is meaningful and valuable. A person obtains such recognition of his/her activities when they are consistent with the “screenplays” of the social roles he/she is expected to play. Thus, the feelings of meaningfulness and valuableness of someone’s own life appear when a person plays the social roles he/she is demanded to play and it is, without any doubt, the basic reason why people internalise their social roles, what means that they identify themselves with them and make them elements of their identity. The assumption that the need of social recognition exerts a decisive influence on formation of human identity is probably the most important of the assumptions we formulated before our research on sport identity in contemporary Poland. We made it following the example of Weiss, who used the mentioned above assumption as a basis for his research on sport identity, which he carried out in Austria some years ago [Weiss 1999]. However, it was not the only assumption we made. According to the second of our assumptions, people tend to increase the feeling of meaningfulness of their lives by carrying out a peculiar psychological hierarchisation of the social roles which they play – a person increases above the average level his or her identification with the roles which are the source of relatively big social recognition and he/she distances himself/herself from the rest of his/her roles, perceiving them as such aspects of his/her life which do not express his/her “real self”. While particularising this assumption, we put forward a supposition that a person displays inclinations to identify him/herself with those of his/her, which are perceived by his/her social setting as more valuable and which are played by this person more successfully. Thus, individual inclinations to identify oneself with a given social role would be directly proportional to the product of two factors: individual abilities to play it successfully and social recognition, which is enjoyed by a given sphere of activity. Inspiration to make the second of our assumptions was also provided by Weiss, who undoubtedly assumed it implicitly while making the mentioned above research, but we were also inspired by the theoretical conceptions of Ralph H. Turner  and George C. Homans . The first of them maintained that an individual builds his/her identity by identifying him/herself with some of his/her roles and distancing him/herself from the other. Thus, he assumed, inter alia, that “individuals tend to merge positively evaluated roles with their persons” and “to locate their persons in the roles they enact most adequately” [Turner R.H. 1978, p. 14). The latter perceived man as a rational and calculating being and hence he presupposed that human behaviour (what, in our case, means: human auto-defining) is “a function of its pay-off” [Homans 1961, p. 13], so that “in choosing between alternative actions, a person will choose that one for which, as perceived by him at the time, the value of the result, multiplied by the probability of getting the result is greater” [Turner J.H. 1978, p. 228]. The third of our assumptions regarded relations between the investment of time and effort and the strength of identity. Inspired by one of Turner’s propositions [Turner R..H. 1978, p. 15], we assumed that the greater is such investment in some form of activity, the stronger is identification with a suitable social role. The fourth of our assumptions regarded factors determining inclinations of one’s own social setting to identify a given person with particular social roles this person plays. We assumed that high social prestige of a role and its successful performance are factors which cause not only that an actor is inclined to identify himself (or herself) with it, but also that such inclinations appear in his (or her) social setting, which treats prestigious and well-played roles as more important – and, in this sense, more “real” – than low prestige roles that are played badly. Formulating this assumption we also followed the traces of Ralph H. Turner, who maintained that “roles that are quite positively evaluated and those that are quite negatively evaluated attract more attention than neutral roles. Because appearances are more striking, inferences about the person are likely to be stronger” [1978, p. 8]. The mentioned above assumptions served us as a basis to formulate our working hypotheses. Namely, we presumed that sports identity should be expected to be stronger in case of the persons who achieve successes in sports and whose sporting activities meet recognition of their settings. On the other hand, it should be expected to be weaker in case of the persons whose level of sports performance is not high and whose sporting activities do not meet their settings’ recognition. We assumed that persons who spend relatively a lot of time on their sporting activities should have stronger sport identity than persons who spend on them relatively small time. We also assumed that persons who perform their sporting activities on relatively high levels and achieve successes in sports will be more often and to greater extent perceived by their social settings as athletes than those who perform sports on relatively low levels and without successes. Sports successes of our respondents were measured by us on the basis of answers for question 7 from part I of the applied questionnaire, where the responding persons characterised the level of their sporting activities on. The measurement of social recognition experienced by the respondents because of their sporting activities was made by us on the basis of their answers for questions included in part III of the questionnaire, where the respondents asses, inter alia, whether their sport commitment is important for their friends and families. It seems probable that financial rewards got by athletes because of their sporting activities are also perceived by them as a form of recognising of their sporting activities. Thus, we formulated a hypothesis that the strength of sport identity is positively correlated with the fact of getting money for sport participation and that the higher percent of the respondent’s income comes from this source, the stronger sport personality we should expect. We measured the investment of time and effort in sporting activities with a help of question 6, part I: “How much time do you spend every week for practising of your sports discipline?”. We measured the strength of sports identity with a help of the question, which appears in part II of the applied questionnaire. It asks a respondent to rate on a scale of zero to one hundred the importance of different aspects of his/her life, and sporting activities are mentioned here as one of these aspects. Our respondents made the evaluation of the importance of sporting activities in someone’s own life also while answering questions from the part IV of the applied questionnaire. Our respondents were asked there, for example, if they usually organised their day in connection with their sporting activities and if they often dreamed of sporting successes. Finally, some questions included in part III of the questionnaire – where the respondents were asked, for example, whether they were perceived by many persons mainly as athletes – were used to measure to what extent our respondents were identified with their sport roles by their social settings.
Material and method
There were 238 athletes from different sport disciplines investigated. The sample included 33 top Polish badminton players. They were asked to fill in a standard questionnaire on sport identity developed by O. Weiss from Vienna University, translated into Polish, and checked for validity by the Author in co-operation with Austrian partners. Pilot study was carried out in order do check the validity of research tool. There were 80.7% of men and 19.3% of women in the sample. Mean age was 22.58, while 82% of respondents were between 18 – 29 year of age. The sample included both national teams players (e.g. in badminton) and amateur athletes, whose sport involvement might be defined as recreational. They represented 19 sport disciplines. Complete list is presented in Figure 1 below. Majority of respondents practiced football (20.1%), basketball (20.8%), followed by badminton (14%), handball (9.7%) and swimming (5.5%). Other disciplines’ representatives groups did not exceed 10 persons. In our sample, we have included team and individual, indoor and outdoor, very popular and less recognized in Poland sports. Popularity level of investigated sport disciplines in Poland was estimated based on Charzewski  and GUS  research on most often practiced by the Poles sport disciplines. From his point of view the most popular would be swimming, basketball and football, while relatively unpopular sports represented also in our research would be weightlifting, pentathlon, triathlon, rugby and badminton, although the latter according to GUS  is well recognized as recreational activity. On the other hand, there are also marketing research evidences on the social recognition of certain sports with regard to sport sponsorship. The example may be “ARC Rynek i Opinia” company annual reports on sport sponsorship market and marketing value of certain disciplines where low recognition of badminton as sport discipline in Polish society reported.
It was assumed in the research that sport skills and involvement level would differentiate research results on strength of sport identity of respondents. Sport level of investigated players is presented in Table 2. Almost half of the sample (43.7%) was athletes representing first division national level. Second biggest groups were amateur athletes playing sport on a local competition level. Swimmers, pentathlon athletes and part of badminton group, represented the highest sport level (national team). Female basketball, handball and badminton players also presented high sport level (1st division). The lowest competition level included mainly team games representatives: football and male basketball players. Significant differences in sport competition level and character of specific sport disciplines differentiated sport involvement of respondents with regard to number of training session and hours per week. Half of respondents devoted to sport training over 10 hours per week. The highest number of training hours was reported by swimming, pentathlon, female basketball and badminton players, who declared 25 to 35 hours of training per week (up to 21 training sessions per week in case of pentathlon). Low competitive level football players and male basketball players indicated the lowest amount of sport training time. Our sample was also heterogeneous with regard to receiving financial support of remuneration because of their sport involvement. Over half of them reported they do receive some form of financial support, while 45.1% reported no financial support of any kind. It was clear that financial rewards from playing sports would be closely related to sport competition level: the higher was the sport level, the more frequently respondents reported receiving them (correlation of 0.328; p=0.01). Yet, it should be noticed that over 26% of local leagues players also declared receiving financial benefits because of sport. It may be related to the fact, that in this group of athletes, most commercialised Polish sports such as football and basketball were represented. In case of badminton, three fourth of players reported receiving financial benefits, which is most likely result of their high sport competition level (national team and 1st division).
Investigated players were quite positive abort their sport achievements, although only 7.3% of them estimated their results as very good. Almost half of them reported they have good sport results (Table 3). It was interesting to see that correlation between declared sport competition level and assessment of own sport achievements was very week: -0.244 at p=0.01. Among 33 investigated badminton players (including 10 national team members and 19 1 st division players) evaluated their sport achievements as good, and 15.2% as very good, which is twice more than sample average.
Table 3. Self-evaluation of own sport achievements.
Among number of spheres of life (categories) presented to respondents, they valued highest family (mean value of 93.78 points with 100 points as a maximum) and sport (87.34 points). The third most valued spheres or groups were friends and education (almost 80 points each). Less important were religion and Church, arts and music, and ethnic or national membership (all categories of more than 50 points). The lease important in the view of investigated players was politics. High position of family is in no way surprising. It complies with general Polish society research. It is interesting to see that, regardless to the 36% representation of lowest competition level, sport was valued almost as high as family. This result supports the notion that sport identity and importance of sport in one’s life is (surprisingly) not dependent on sport competition level. It seems strange, but somehow consistent with other results of our research on sport identity. Our research does not support hypothesis on significant differences in identifying with a role of an athlete and importance of sport in life in case of a sample which is highly differentiated with regard to sport competition level, receiving financial rewards because of sport and type of sport discipline represented. This concerns both response to the questions regarding self- evaluation of sport in respondent life (part 4 of the questionnaire) and perceived social recognition of respondents’ sport involvement (part 3 of the questionnaire). In both groups of questions, no significant correlations between answers category and sport discipline and sport level variables were recorded. Yet, it does not mean there were no any correlations and patterns with regard to sport level and self-evaluated importance of sport involvement and perceived social recognition. Players representing higher sport level more often declared that sport is an important part of their personality. No significant correlations were yet recorded here. All national team members provided gave their positive answer (75% “agree” and 25% “rather agree”). With representatives of lower sport levels, answers varied more, but even on local league competition level over 75% of respondents declared that being an athlete is an important part of their personality. Investigated high-level athletes more often declared to organize their daily time schedule around sport (over 80% of national team members and only 20% of local league players). Being a good sportsman and permanent improvement of sport skills were very important for over 90% of respondents. Over 60% considered themselves mainly as athletes and over 90% dreamt of sport success. Investigated badminton players more often then overall sample results, declared perceiving themselves as athletes (almost 70%), and all of them reported dreaming of sport success and that sport is an important part of their lives. With regard to this group of question, there were no other differences between badminton and other sport disciplines.
Figure 2. Perceived importance of being athletes in respondents’ lives.
National team members and representatives of the lowest sport competition level in the same way see how their social environment perceives them. Again, there was no correlation between sport level and answers to this group of question. Respondents (76%) declared they are mainly perceived as athletes, while 70% claimed their sport involvement is important to their friends and acquaintances. Over 86% of the sample reported that people think sport is very important in their life. In case of badminton, players more often (in comparison to general results) declared they are perceived mainly as athletes (84.8%).
National team members and representatives of the lowest sport competition level in the same way see how their social environment perceives them. Again, there was no correlation between sport level and answers to this group of question. Respondents (76%) declared they are mainly perceived as athletes, while 70% claimed their sport involvement is important to their friends and acquaintances. Over 86% of the sample reported that people think sport is very important in their life. In case of badminton, players more often (in comparison to general results) declared they are perceived mainly as athletes (84.8%). Analysis of respondents’ motives of playing sports show that for the whole sample the most important motivation was improving fitness and health (almost 90% of answers) and emotions related to sport competition (87,6%). Yet, at the same time, almost half of a sample declared that because of injuries, sport is more harmful than beneficial to their health. Answers to these questions are quite inconsistent. Competitiveness as an important motive for playing sports was reported by 77.5% of respondents. Investigated badminton players were less focused on competitiveness (67.7%) and paid less attention to the teamwork opportunity related to sports. The latter is most likely the result of individual character of badminton competitions. Half of the sample expressed their will to continue or move to professional sport career (45% in case of badminton players).
Concluding, different sport level, different popularity of certain sports in Poland, receiving financial benefits because of sport involvement did not vary significantly the strength of identification with a role of a sportsman and perceived importance of sport in respondents’ life. It concerned both the importance of sport in the life of respondents, and social recognitions for the role of athletes from the social environment. Research results did not prove Weiss  conclusions on stronger sport identity of athletes representing most popular sport discipline and higher sport level and social prestige (hypothesis rejected). It may be the result of limited number of respondents, general problems with defining the most popular sport disciplines or general low interest of Polish society in active sport involvement. Author intends to continue the research including more athletes and maintaining heterogeneous character of the sample. Regardless to the relatively low popularity of badminton in Poland, investigated players represented sample’s higher average sport identity level. Relatively high sport identity self-assessment in comparison to overall sample may be the result of high sport level represented by badminton players, which weakened the impact of discipline popularity. In our research sport identity and assessment of the importance of sport in respondents’ lives was not dependant on represented sport level. This conclusion is consistent with other results of our research, and enables rejecting the main hypothesis.
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